We all knew there was something special about this draft class. This group was just loaded with talent, so much so that Malik Monk fell to No. 11. A player of his caliber is almost always a top five selection.
Throw in Ben Simmons playing his first NBA season and the “rookie” class gets that much better. Simmons is the frontrunner for rookie of the year now, but there are so many other rookies having exciting seasons.
Jayson Tatum has stepped up in Boston to fill the hole left by Gordon Hayward. The third overall pick is averaging 13.7 points and 5.7 rebounds a game and been a key part of why the Celtics have the best record in the NBA.
De’Aaron Fox is also looking impressive so far this season. The fact he is on the Kings has not kept fans from seeing his production. With averages of 12.3 points and 5.5 assists per game, it is a wonder he has only started two games. He also just hit a game-winning shot to beat Simmons and the 76ers.
Fox’s former teammate, Malik Monk is also looking nice. He started off slow, but is now averaging almost 10 points per game with the Hornets. He has had some explosive performances like his 25 points in 23 minutes against the Bucks and 21 points in 27 minutes against the Knicks.
The most talked about rookie in this class has definitely been Lonzo Ball, but not because he has been one of the top rookies in this class. Sure, the No. 2 overall pick has had some nice games like his almost triple-double in his second game, but he only has topped 10 points once since then.
Ball’s fellow rookie teammate, Kyle Kuzma, is also looking good. Kuzma is third amongst rookies in scoring at 14.8 points per game and is also grabbing 6.5 rebounds.
Dennis Smith Jr., Donovan Mitchell, Mike James, John Collins, Josh Jackson and Bogdan Bogdanovic are also averaging double figures in points per game. This class has been truly amazing.
I purposely left a name out of that list though, and you may not have noticed because of how little he has been talked about. That name would be Lauri Markkanen.
If you remember the draft, Markkanen was picked seventh overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves, but then was traded along with Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn for Jimmy Butler.
In his one season at Arizona, Markkanen averaged 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game while shooting 49.2 percent from the field and 42.3 percent from behind the arc.
He has put up similar stats in his 10 games with the Bulls, as he is averaging 15.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Those numbers are both good for second amongst rookies behind, you guessed it, Ben Simmons.
With all the hype surrounding Simmons, the struggles by Ball and Markelle Fultz and Tatum and Boston being so successful, Markkanen’s production has seemed to go unnoticed.
It more than likely has something to do with the fact that he is playing with the Bulls. With so little star power in Chicago, why would anyone talk about them? They also are second to last in the Eastern Conference. It is hard enough to get talked about in the East with all the stars playing in the West and getting all the attention.
Let’s take a look at what Markkanen’s draft profile said about him. According to Draft Express, Markkanen’s biggest strengths were his shooting ability and size.
He’s definitely a good shooter. Known as a stretch big at 7-feet, 230 pounds, Markkanen’s field goal percentage is 42.6 and his 3-point percentage is 36.1. Not bad numbers for a rookie big.
For comparison, Kristaps Porzingis had a 39.8 field goal percentage and 21.4 3-point percentage through his first 10 NBA games. Porzingis has obviously improved since then. But in today’s game, you have to be able to shoot around 40 percent from deep, and that percentage should only improve for Markkanen as his career progresses.
Markkanen’s size puts him right up there with guys Porzingis, Kevin Love and Dirk Nowitzki. Obviously they aren’t exact in height and weight, but they are all big men that can stretch the floor and open lanes for their teammates. You have to respect their shot because they all can hit 3-pointers.
One of the bigger weaknesses in his draft profile was his defense. His lack of weight and length prevents him from being physical inside and blocking shots. Guys like Porzingis and Anthony Davis got a whole foot of length more than him with their 8-foot wingspans.
This is not as big of a concern to me though. A lot of the rookies coming in had question marks about their defensive abilities. This is also something that can be improved over time.
I’m also not going to let something like length determine if a guy can be good in this league or not because Love and Nowitzki also don’t have significant length.
Of course you can’t make assumptions this early on in a rookie’s career. Fans love to declare guys future Hall of Famers or busts early on in the season. But you cannot judge a guy that early. Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged less than seven points per game in his rookie season. Now he is the leading candidate for MVP in his fifth season.
Maybe Markkanen peaks at his rookie season. Maybe he continues to improve. Maybe we will see him in the 2020 All-Star game playing in front of his home crowd in Chicago. What we know for sure is he has exploded onto the NBA scene faster than his fellow members of this draft class.
So why is no one talking about Lauri Markkanen? I have no clue, but the numbers speak for themselves. This guy is ballin.
Featured image by Getty Images North America
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