NBA Position: PF/Small-ball C
General Information: 19-year-old freshman, played for Arizona. From Vantaa, Finland.
Measurables: 7’0", 225 lbs. Did not participate in the NBA combine.
2016-17 Season Statistics: 15.6 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.4 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 1.1 TOPG (37 games played, 30.8 minutes a contest) – 49.2% FG, 83.5% FT, 42.3% 3P
The best shooter in the class, Markkanen stands over 7’0 tall and offers a tantalizing offensive weapon for any squad the modern NBA. He’s got a major need—but also plenty of time—to work on a down-low game, improve his ball-handling and playmaking instincts, and figure out how to do big man stuff. He shouldn’t be expected to carry a team himself, but a smart offensive squad can make him a dynamic scoring option.
It’s not hard to see Markkanen’s NBA appeal; a true stretch four with plenty of stretch in both his 42% three-point success and in his 7’0 height. He’s the best shooter in the class, and few players in college, let alone 19-year-old freshman, have his consistent shooting motion and quick release. His size and release point kept his shot of reach of any collegiate defenders and will keep it away from most NBA bigs, but even when challenged he’s got great body control on his shot. Sean Miller did a solid job of scheming the Wildcat offense around Markkanen; Arizona was near the bottom in pace, but playing in the halfcourt is much more Markkanen’s strength. He finished square in the 60s percentile for transition success but in the 98th percentile for points-per shot in the halfcourt (49% shooting). Markkanen showed an individual handling ability to move with the ball and take screens, and his quick release will seriously stress out a defense chasing him around multiple screens.
The biggest question for Markkanen is his continued development outside of his shot. If all he ever becomes in the NBA is a great floor-spacing big, he’s worth a decent investment, but in a class as talented as this teams won’t take him in the top of the lottery unless they think he can add additional versatility. And aside from great shooting, there’s not much defined in his game – he’s not a playmaker (averaging a paltry 1.2 assists per 40 minutes with a 6.2% assist rate), AND he’s not going to be an immediate post thread (just 22.7% of his shots were at the rim, and although he was effective, he struggled against NBA-sized defenders). With his 7’0 size, one of these two weakness will need to be addressed quickly.
Markkanen will need to show much more consistency in his offensive ability (he’s had just as many 10 points or less games than he had 20 points or more games) and that he can take over an offense when needed; there were games (UCLA, Gonzaga, Butler, the entire NCAA tournament) where the Wildcats needed Markkanen to show an alpha-dog mentality that didn’t emerge.
Given his size, teams would hope that Markkanen would be able to handle the 5 on defense for small-ball lineups, but his lack of physicality, NBA athleticism, AND length left him playing inches below his defensive assignments on a consistent basis. This isn’t just a lack of effort thing; aside from solid footspeed, Markkanen has incredibly poor defensive potential. Collegiate players with serious height disadvantages against him handled him on both ends, and NBA bigs are going to feast on him until something changes.
One of the best defensive points on Markkanen came from Cole Zwicker on the What’s on Draft Podcast (a must-listen for any armchair scouts), where he discussed Markkanen’s role on small-ball defenses.
Markkanen is more comfortable on the perimeter, guarding with extra space to help him recover, but as soon as an opponent gets a step on him, it was over in college and it’ll be worse at the next level. With his average toolset, Markkanen HAS to become a more focused and physical defender or he’s going to be a complete liability on defense.
Another question for Markkanen’s impact at the NBA level is his rebounding. He was solid at the collegiate level, snagging 9.3 per 40 minutes with a 17% defensive rebounding rate, but he lacks the verticality, the strength, or the length to compete in a crowded NBA paint. Given his role in the offense, his 10% offensive rebounding rate is surprisingly solid; as he adjusts to being more of an off-ball weapon in the NBA, he could become a solid offensive rebounder if he’s flying around the court moving off screens.
No draft prospect had a more disappointing tournament than Markkanen; aside from a 20 point outing against mismatched South Dakota, he never showed the ability to create the space for his jumper consistently, and he continued the narrative that “all he can do is shoot”. Against Xavier, who stymied him completely despite having only one player over 6’10, he didn’t take a single shot in the final 10 minutes of the contest and showed limited reason to be on the court otherwise. Against Saint Mary’s, Markanen was a 7’0 invisibility and got dominated throughout the game by Jock Landale, the only player with less bounce than Markanen (but a physicality to his game that Markkanen just absolutely lacks). Early in his NBA career, teams will know how to disrupt Markannen; make him guard physical opponents, get him off the three-point line, and he can be handled. Everything comes down to what else Markkanen can add to his game.
Even with all the weaknesses I listed in the previous 10 paragraphs, Markkanen isn’t the top 10’s consolation prize; he actively deserves to be in the conversation among any in the 3rd tier of the class. He’s a smart kid who showcased incredible effectiveness on one of the NCAA’s higher-profile programs. There’s also a solid chance some of his skill was hidden by Arizona; surrounded by NBA talent on offense, teams could uncork a passing game underutilized at college. He’s only 19 years old and has scoring instincts that any stretch-big in the past few drafts would envy.
Fit with Sacramento:
Selecting Markkanen has somehow turned into the draft nightmare among the fanbase, the worst-case scenario for how the lottery could turn out. While I’ve got Markkanen square at No. 10 on my big board, with no chance of moving up, that’s still right in the Kings draft range. And with his shooting ability, offensive instincts, and size, I really don’t see Markkanen as either a worst-case scenario or a bad outcome.
On a developing offense with only one proven higher-volume shooter (Buddy Hield), that addition of another anchor to disrupt the gravity of the defense would really help open-up space for other players like Skal Labissiere and Willie Cauley-Stein who thrive in space. Opening up his role as a passer who doesn’t freeze the ball would be the immediate concern, but there’s no way Markkanen can’t become an adequate ball-mover if Cauley-Stein could.
It’s easy to dismiss Markkanen, but some smart NBA team is going to love selecting a 7’0 mismatch who can break defensive spacing. He’s not a sexy draft pick, and he may not be the player the fanbase wants, but he may be the player the fanbase needs.