While he hasn’t quite yet reached the fame of Kristaps Porzingis, Lauri Markkanen of the Chicago Bulls is certainly turning some heads and drawing some similarities in the process.
Over 33 minutes in the season opener against the Toronto Raptors, Markkanen gave Bulls fans a glimpse of his skill set, dropping 17 points on 5-of-12 shooting with eight rebounds. He followed that up with his first double-double with 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting and 12 boards.
He then impressed LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in his third game, posting 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including 5-of-8 from beyond the three-point line, along with eight rebounds.
In the team’s first win on Thursday, he hit a clutch three with under a minute to go and had another double-double with 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting and 12 boards against the Atlanta Hawks.
While Porzingis’ current averages of 25.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game are a product of his environment with the New York Knicks, they’re also indicative of his ability to score the basketball.
Now in his third season, the 22-year-old power forward is expected to light up the Big Apple with individual dominance all year.
Porzinigs is more experienced and further along in his development, but there are a few reasons why Markkanen resembles him and might became Porzingis 2.0 in the future.
Here are three reasons and a possible differentiator between the two.
If you take a look at either player, you’ll notice a few major similarities.
First, they’re both European. Porzingis is Latvian while Markkanen is Finnish. While Porzingis garnered more fame in his native land before coming to the United States for the 2015 NBA Draft, Markkanen is also the pride of his country and represented Finland in this past EuroBasket tournament. It’s worth noting that Markkanen elected to spend a year in an American college (University of Arizona), while Porzingis went straight to the draft.
Secondly, they’re both really tall. Porzingis is 7’3” and is the tallest active player in the entire Association. Markkanen is 7’0” and possesses an obvious size mismatch at the power forward position, where he has spent most of his time so far.
Finally, they’re both lanky and have beautiful shooting form. It seems like both men have the shooting stroke of a guard, but happen to be stuck in a seven-footer’s body, which leads to the next point.
Remarkable Long-Range Shooting Ability
At 7’0”, Markkanen looks like a natural from beyond the arc. He has made at least two threes in each of his first four games and has gone 12-for-30 (40.0 percent) overall. Recognized as a viable threat from deep during his one-and-done season at Arizona, his ability to stretch defenses due to his incredible size and touch combo will serve him well moving forward.
Markkanen became the first player in NBA history to make 10 threes in the first three games of his career. Kevin Durant held the previous record of nine.
At 7’3”, Porzingis is not only the tallest player in the NBA, but he also might have the best shooting touch for any frontcourt player. He has knocked down 5-of-15 three-pointers last season, but converted 112-of-314 (35.7 percent) last season and can get hot at any time.
Rebuilding In Huge Markets
It’s odd the way things work sometimes.
Almost solely due to the practice altercation between teammates Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic, Markkanen was thrust into a major role for the Bulls. He has done nothing to suggest that his minutes will dwindle, even when both of his teammates eventually return to action.
Stepping up to the challenge, Markkanen became the first Bull to score in double-figures four-straight times to start the season since a familiar name did it in 2008.
He also became just the second player in Bulls history to have two double-doubles in the team’s first four games.
After Thursday’s game, coach Fred Hoiberg admitted that the team was playing through their 20-year-old rookie on the offensive end of the floor.
Clearly in rebuilding mode, the Bulls should give Markkanen the green light to develop with a ton of run in his rookie campaign.
Like him, Porzingis is the lone bright spot in New York this season and has gotten off to a blazing-hot start as one of the most obvious go-to options in the entire league.
Differentiation: Clutch Factor?
On Thursday night, Markkanen hit a clutch three-pointer with less than a minute remaining to give the Bulls a four-point lead, stretching it to a two-possession game in his team’s first victory of the season.
“To step up and knock that shot down in the end is a great sign for a young player,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said of the rookie, per Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. “When you can play through a 20-year-old kid like that it’s pretty impressive for him to go out and have that type of game when his shot wasn’t falling… He’s a really good versatile basketball player. He’s got the rep of being a great shooter, which he is, but the underrated part of his game is to go by guys.”
While Porzingis is counted on heavily in all four quarters, he hasn’t exactly been regarded as a closer. Missing a few game-winning shots (including two buzzer-beaters) over his short career, he is still a work in progress when it comes to taking and making big shots down the stretch of games.
In a recent loss to the Detroit Pistons, Porzingis’ inability to make a smart decision late in the fourth quarter was on full display. With 37 seconds to go and with his team down by three, he found himself wide open beyond the arc, but inexplicably drove to the basket and attempted to lay the ball in. However, opposing center Andre Drummond easily blocked the attempt and no foul was called. After a couple more Pistons free throws, the Knicks cemented a loss.
Although it’s much too early to tell, it seems like Markkanen welcomes the ball during crucial times and has shown a resilience to pressure in his first four games. That’s an intangible trait that can't be taught.
As of right now, the jury’s out on whether or not Porzingis shares that desire and ability. He will have to develop across the board, but if any player is able to replicate what Porzingis does on the court, it will be Markkanen.