Lauri Markkanen has been about what he was expected to be.
As I profiled prior to the season, the seven-footer born in Finland is an exceptional shooter who affects the game with his mere existence on the court, without even necessarily needing to touch the ball – as he leads the Pac 12 in offensive rating, according to basketball-reference.
Markkanen is also not a good enough defender at this point of his development to unlock the lineups that would stretch opponents to their breaking points, the ones with him at center, because he cannot protect the rim or control the defensive glass.
But he hasn’t been that severe a liability when paired up with a center. Markkanen has the third worst defensive rating on the team but it’s not as if Arizona is hemorrhaging points with him out there. He averages 31.3 minutes per game but hasn’t prevented the Wildcats from fielding the 12th best defense in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency.
Markkanen has had a historic shooting season for someone his size at the collegiate level. According to hoop-math, he’s taken 74.5% of his shots away from the basket, which makes his .637 effective field goal percentage even more impressive, as he’s nailed 50% of his 96 three-point attempts and 40.3% of his 62 two-point jumpers.
The types of shots he’s taken is perhaps even more impressive than his raw percentages, though. Markkanen has a quick trigger and a dynamic enough release that helps him get the sorts of looks that opposing big men have a hard time defending.
Arizona has done very well getting him open with pindown screens, which are tough for big men to navigate around and then try running him off his spot or contesting him. By the time they get there, Markkanen has let it fly already.
His biggest impact has been in the pick-and-pop, though. When he sets a ball-screen, Markkanen immediately erases a defender for his teammate to deal with, as that big assigned to him is told to have no help responsibility trying to contain the dribble driver. That was evident in the game against UCLA last weekend, when TJ Leaf and Thomas Welsh would stick to him and not worrying about Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Kadeem Allen getting downhill.
Markkanen is very fluid off the bounce, attacking closeouts from the top of the key all the way to the basket. He can’t blow by his man on speed but has pretty good core strength in his 230-pound frame to maintain his balance through contact and sometimes pivots into a very well coordinated spin move.
Just like the Finnish junior national team did, Arizona has gotten Markkanen some ball-screens from time to time and he’s proven himself able to drive to the rim against this higher level of competition as well. He always goes left and hasn’t shown anything in terms of being able to pass on the move yet, though, assisting on just 6.9% of Arizona’s scores when he’s been on the floor.
In isolation, Markkanen has a decent handle for someone his size but hasn’t developed any dribble moves to shake his defender side-to-side as of now. He has, however, flashed the ability to dribble between his legs to gain separation for a step-back jumper.
With Dusan Ristic or Chance Comance always in the game with him, Markkanen rarely has space to roll hard to the basket in the pick-and-roll. But in the few times he’s been able to, he has shown soft hands to catch the ball on the move and touch on non-dunk finishes – converting his shots at the rim at a 70.4% clip. That said, Markkanen can’t finish through contact and hasn’t flashed the ability to play above the rim as a target for lobs.
Due to his role as a floor spacer and creating his own shot, he’s made no impact in the offensive glass.
Markkanen also hasn’t done a ton in the post. That doesn’t matter for now because his college opponents have not been aggressive attempting to defend him with smaller players or switching against him aggressively but that’s something that will surely come up when he gets to the pros.
Markkanen steps in to the front of the rim to draw some charges from time to time but can’t elevate off two feet explosively to play above the rim as a constant shot blocking threat – picking up just 10 blocks in 20 appearances so far this season. And he hasn’t shown to be the most aware help defender to begin with, often failing to rotate when a mere step or two was needed to for him just be a presence near the basket.
With that as the case, Markkanen has always matched up against the smaller big man. When he’s needed to guard in the perimeter, Markkanen has proven able to bend his knees to get in a stance and has even shown some lateral mobility not to get beaten off the bounce badly.
He hasn’t done well closing out to shooters at the three-point line, though, unable to run them off their spot.
But the biggest concern is when he gets to match up against bruising old school types. Despite his size, Markkanen isn’t very tough. In the game against Berkeley, Arizona doubled immediately whenever Ivan Rabb (not exactly known for his power moves) caught the ball against him in the low post.
Markkanen is attentive to his boxout responsibilities but doesn’t get very physical and lacks the standing the reach and leaping ability to rebound in traffic, collecting just 17.3% of opponents’ misses when he’s been on the floor – which is a disappointing mark for someone his size.
 His 7.7% turnover rate is low in general but is even more appealing in the context of his 22.4% usage rate
 Just 24 of his 63 two-point baskets (38%) have been assisted
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara