When the Chicago Bulls traded away Jimmy Butler, they entered a full-fledged rebuilding period.
Luckily for Bulls fans, the dynamic Lauri Markkanen might make them quickly forget about Butler and the team’s recent success. The No. 7 overall pick ended up in Chicago as a result of the surprising trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
In FIBA’s EuroBasket tournament, the former University of Arizona Wildcat has been playing for his native Finland and in the process, he has been raising some eyebrows with his polished arsenal of offensive moves.
On Sunday, Markkanen starred against Poland and helped Finland move to 2-1 with a 29-point, nine-rebound performance. According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, he was about as clutch as possible for his native team down the stretch.
“Trailing by five with 50 seconds left in regulation, Finland watched Markkanen force a 5-second violation, sink three free throws after getting fouled on a 3-pointer, steal the inbounds pass and force the first overtime with a dunk. The 7-footer then forced the second overtime when he dropped in a fadeaway jumper after a smaller defender switched onto him in the post,” Johnson wrote.
The 20-year-old 7-footer has been compared to future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki due to his size, perimeter shooting ability, and craftiness with the basketball.
Interestingly, Finland’s head coach Henrik Dettman coached Nowitzki on the German national team from 1997 to 2003, so he was the perfect person to draw a parallel between the two players.
“I don’t need to say how special is. You all see it when he plays,” Dettman said during the post-game press conference, per Antonis Stroggylakis of EuroHoops.com. “There’s something I’ve been saying for some time: It’s unfair to compare human beings with each other. And we are talking about players from different areas. But there are many similar things in the game that Dirk and Lauri play.”
Despite the clear physical similarities, the coach added that there are many other factors that go into becoming an all-time great.
“The only thing we don’t know is if Lauri has the same work ethic that Dirk has with the game. If Lauri has the same work ethic, and is healthy, he’ll definitely reach the same level that Dirk has. He has skills, speed, understanding for the game. It’s also natural.The new generation has to be better than the one of the past," he said.
Markkanen will undoubtedly receive a lot of playing time in his rookie season with the Bulls. The potential will certainly be there for him to prove himself, just like fellow big man Kristaps Porzingis recently has done in New York with the Knicks. Based on their size and skill set, Markkanen and Porzingis will likely be compared throughout their careers.
If Markannen's EuroBasket dominance means anything, Bulls fans have a lot to be excited about.