7-footer, Pure Shooter, Stretch Big

Lauri Markkanen Scouting Report

CONTEXT

Lauri Markkanen enrolled at Arizona as a highly touted pro prospect, after impressive appearances in FIBA junior events for four straight years, and I think it’s fair to say the seven-foot gunner from Finland met expectations.

His rebounding didn’t translate against American competition but his shooting turned out to be even better than expected and he posted one of the most remarkable shooting seasons in NCAA history.

Despite taking 74.7% of his shots away from the basket, Markkanen averaged 1.53 points per shot and Arizona averaged 134.1 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, 15th best in the country, which made him indispensible to what turned out to be a legit title contender.

Arizona won 32 out of 37 games, won a share of the PAC 12 outright, won the PAC 12 tournament and lost to Xavier by a possession in the Sweet Sixteen. Markkanen led the team in minutes and was the driving force behind the 16th-ranked offense in adjusted offensive efficiency, despite his unimpressive 22.8% usage rate, because he is one of those players who can make an impact without touching the ball.

Given his stature, it’s enticing to think of Markkanen as an eventual full time center, providing the sort of spacing that should stretch any defense to its breaking point, but he is a poor defender at this point of his development and seems far from becoming the sort of big man who can be trusted with directing traffic, calling coverages and acting as the last line of defense.

Arizona managed to build a top 30 defense in spite of him, though. It successfully hid him by pairing him up with a prototype center for just about every minute he was on the floor. It was rare to see opponents putting him in pick-and-roll defense constantly to try exposing him in space, which will be a lot more challenging in the pros.

(Check the rest of the post at RealGM)

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7-footer, Post Scorer

Dusan Ristic Scouting Report

CONTEXT

With Kaleb Tarczewski finally gone, Dusan Ristic has stepped up to a more prominent role as Arizona’s starting center this season. After logging just 869 minutes in his first couple of seasons, the seven-footer born in Serbian is already up to 518 minutes in 21 appearances this year and has averaged 24.7 minutes per game.

Unfortunately for Ristic, the game is going away from old school throwback types like him – who can’t defend pick-and-rolls beyond the foul line or pick up smaller players on switches and can only substantially contribute on offense from the post but without doing so in a dominant manner.

Because of that, Draft Express does not rank Ristic in its top 100.

POST GAME

Ristic uses the strength in his 245-pound frame well to get deep seals against just about every center he’s faced at the college level. He doesn’t have particularly fluid footwork or a diverse set of shot fakes and relies mostly on his general size to bully his way into short range attempts.

Ristic does have good touch on turnaround hooks over the defender’s left shoulder, though. And he’s even flashed a turnaround-fadeaway jumper in the game against UCLA (hiking his leg Dirk Nowitzki-style) but for the most part hasn’t shown to have that as a real asset he can go to regularly.

Ristic has also not shown much lately in terms of being able to pass with his back to the basket, assisting on just 3.7% of Arizona’s scores when he’s been on the floor this season – according to basketball-reference.

OFFENSE AT THE RIM

He is a good screener who looks to draw contact and whose picks are tough for on-ball defenders to navigate around but doesn’t have the athletic ability needed to act as a credible scoring threat out of the pick-and-roll consistently.

Ristic can’t roll hard to the basket, can’t play above the rim as a target for lobs and needs to catch and gather himself before going up strong, even out of the dunker’s spot. He does have great touch near the basket, though, converting 79.7% of his 64 shots at the rim this season – according to hoop-math.

Ristic doesn’t have great leaping ability or play with a high motor but he is able to set inside position on the offensive glass with some regularity and has length to rebound outside of his area – collecting 10.3% of Arizona’s misses when he’s been on the floor, which is not a difference making mark but a positive contribution nonetheless.

OFFENSE AWAY FROM THE BASKET

He has flashed the ability to make standstill shots from mid-range if given space to go through his methodical release and has even nailed eight of his 14 three-point shots over the last two-and-a-half years but rarely spots up in a shooting stance and doesn’t have the sort of dynamic release that suggests he could be used in the pick-and-pop.

Ristic has also flashed some ability to facilitate offense from the elbows but Arizona does not use him that way regularly.

DEFENSE

Just like on offense, he excels on areas where he can rely on his combination of size and strength.

Ristic is a stout post defender and tough to rebound or finish around, as he is attentive to his boxout responsibilities and has good awareness to rotate to the front of the rim and make himself a presence dribble drivers or cutters have to deal with.

But coming off the weak-side in help-defense is tougher because he doesn’t have any quickness and getting off the ground is a chore for him. Ristic can’t play above the rim as a shot blocker, picking up just 44 blocks in his 91 appearances in college. That lack of leaping ability also limits his impact on the glass. He’s collected 19.6% of opponents’ misses when he’s been on the floor, which is a good mark but not dominant.

The biggest struggle for Ristic is defending outside the lane, though. Even in post defense, he needs to leave a cushion to face-up big men so he doesn’t get so easily beaten off the bounce and is vulnerable to having them burring jumpers in his face.

Against the ball-screen, Ristic is no option to switch or hedge high in the perimeter and needs to drop back. He actually shows some lateral mobility to contain dribble penetration when the ball handler snakes the pick-and-roll but can’t bend his knees to get down in a stance and has no shot keeping pace with dribble drivers when they get downhill.

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

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7-footer, Stretch Big

Lauri Markkanen Scouting Report

CONTEXT

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.

OUTSIDE SHOOTING

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.

INTERIOR SCORING

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[1] 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[2], 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.

DEFENSE

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.

[1] His 7.7% turnover rate is low in general but is even more appealing in the context of his 22.4% usage rate

[2] 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

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7-footer, Stretch Big

Lauri Markkanen Scouting Report

(First posted at RealGM.)

CONTEXT

Seven-footer Lauri Markkanen posted dominant numbers at the FIBA European Championships U20 this summer, averaging 33.8 points per 36 minutes on 62.7% true shooting and posting a 42.5 PER – according to our stats database.

Finland lost four out of seven games and placed 15th out of 16 teams in a tournament hosted in Helsinki but Markkanen’s individual greatness cemented his status as a high end NBA prospect. As he enrolls at Arizona, looking for a level of competition higher than the one he’s faced in Finland’s second division, Markkanen starts the season ranked 13th in Draft Express’ top 100.

In Tucson, Markkanen will have a more talented group around him and will have the chance to compete for wins in a way he wasn’t able to with the Finnish junior national team. The flipside of that is he will get the ball less than he is accustomed to. Markkanen posted a 35.5% usage-rate in the European Championships U20, which will certainly not be the case in a team with Allonzo Trier, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Dusan Ristic and Kobi Simmons in it.

Markkanen possesses a combination of size and skill level that immediately places him in the conversation of which guys have potential to eventually end up becoming the number one overall pick next year.

But it’s questionable whether he’ll get enough shots to stand out that much, especially considering Markkanen – as is the case with most 19-year-olds – does not have a fully-developed game yet and will need the help of his coach to get the sort of shots that make him look his best.

SHOOTING

His top skill at this point of his development is the catch-and-shoot outside shot. Markkanen has proven himself able to make shots off the catch from just about anywhere on the floor, not just out of standstill position on spot-ups but also after setting a ball-screen and moving to an open spot around the wing or getting a pindown screen himself.

Spacing the court as a threat who commands a weak-side defender not to have two feet inside the lane is important and being an asset who can come off screens is nice[1] but it’s his ability to make shots out of the pick-and-pop that will make Markkanen a more valuable commodity.

He is not an elite shooter yet, with a release that needs a little bit of time to load up, but has a clean stroke and great touch on his shot. Markkanen projects as especially deadly if paired with the sort of attacking guard whose speed on dribble drives forces the big defender to track him one or two steps into the lane, as the release on his shot is high enough that such long closeouts don’t seem to bother his attempts.

POST GAME

Outside shooting is also Markkanen’s best asset in the post as well.

He has a weak 225-pound frame in the context of his seven-foot height and lacks toughness on top of that. Markkanen often struggles to establish deep position or bully his way into short-range shots against opposing big men. Maybe he’ll grow into it as his body develops but, as of now, Markkanen is not cut out to make a living with his back to the basket.

That’s not any sort of deal breaker, though. Players with his skill profile really only need a viable post game in order to prevent opponents from going small against them without any repercussions. Markkanen can punish smallball or switches with his turnaround, fade-away jumper – borderline impossible for smaller players to contest effectively – and his passing. He hasn’t shown advanced, Boris Diaw-level passing skills or anything but has proven can make simple kick-outs against soft double teams, even when those require an escape dribble into tight spaces.

And even when he is pushed to 17-20 feet away from the basket on stationary, ‘fight-for-position’ post-ups by more physically imposing big men, Markkanen’s face-up, no-dribble, mid-range jumper off a jab-step is a high percentage proposition considering he can get those shots off cleanly because those opposing big men tend to give him some space in fear of his dribble drives.

FLOOR GAME

A play the Finnish junior squad ran quite a bit for Markkanen was loading up one side, and then simply giving him the ball at the opposite elbow for a face-up drive. No big men in his age group at that level seemed able to stay in front of him, with his quick first step, and Markkanen often earned lots of scores at the rim elevating with power out of one foot and foul shots[2] via those isolations.

He also got plenty of opportunities to attack off the bounce from the perimeter, even getting a ball-screen here and there for some big-small pick-and-rolls. Markkanen has proven to be an adept dribble driver with straight-line paths to the basket, able to maintain his balance through contact to get within close range or take a stop-and-pop pull-up jumper against soft ball pressure, though his finishing against length at the basket was subpar.

We’ll see how much of his dribble drive game translates against American athletes or if he’ll even get many opportunities to attack off the bounce a whole lot within Sean Miller’s offense. Having the chance to flash some floor game is the sort of stuff that could elevate his stock into top-five status.

But even based on what he showed at the junior level in Europe, Markkanen should not be confused with the sort of new age power forward who can often create offense for himself and others 25 feet away from the basket; guys like Draymond Green, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and Dragan Bender. He hasn’t shown much of a tight handle, side-to-side shake to play with pace or the ability to pass on the move; all assets needed to break down a set defense with regularity.

DEFENSE

Much like his floor game, Markkanen’s defense is also a mixed bag.

He possesses the agility and coordination to develop into an above average defender guarding above the foul line.

The Finnish junior national team had him hedging-and-recovering a lot against high pick-and-rolls and it seems Arizona will use that approach quite a bit as well, based on what they showed in their televised intra-squad scrimmage. Hedging is an iffy strategy because it demands the three defenders behind the play to be attentive to their zone responsibilities and that’s not always the case. But Markkanen, specifically, is pretty good at doubling the ball and slowing down the development of the play in a way that’s very effective due to his lateral quickness.

That side-to-side agility also makes Markkanen an asset to pick up smaller players on switches. He doesn’t bend his knees to get low in a stance but has proven able to keep pace with these smaller players when they attempt to drive around him and he can challenge shots from behind effectively. That said, Markkanen is not suited to staying with these smaller players if they give up the ball, as he tends to get lost in space as a weak-side defender and doesn’t closeout to shooters very well.

But the biggest issue with Markkanen’s performance on that end regards his defense close to the basket.

He is attentive to his responsibilities rotating to the front of the basket in help defense but lacks length (average seven-foot wingspan in the context of his seven-foot height) and explosive leaping ability to act as a constant shot blocking threat.

Markkanen also struggles holding his ground in the post and boxing out opposing big men in order to control the defensive glass. He’s often posted good rebounding numbers in the events he’s participated but that tended to be the case because of uncontested boards attained due to fortunate positioning close to the basket. Markkanen should gain more strength as his body develops and expand his natural rebounding area but has never really shown much tenacity fighting for 50-50 balls.

PROJECTION

Markkanen’s upside is as a stretch-five who can open up the lane entirely for perimeter players to drive and cut without worrying about a rim protector challenging them at the basket. But those concerns regarding interior defense keep that strategy from being viable for long stretches right now.

At this point, Markkanen projects as a pure stretch-four type who can have gravity working with an attacking guard on the pick-and-pop and punish opponents who try to go smaller against him (as he’s also able to keep pace with them in the perimeter on the other end) but needs a center who can anchor an above average defense by his side.

[1] Though you don’t see teams running pindowns for big men all the often, other than baseline out-of-bound sets.

[2] He averaged 10.5 shots per 36 minutes at the FIBA European Championships U20 this summer.

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

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