If you’re a rabid NBA Draft fan chances are pretty good you have heard that Lauri Markkanen is a “top” prospect. As of today, NBA All-Star Sunday, that is February 19, 2017 Lauri is slotted by DraftExpress to go 7th overall to the Dallas Mavericks.
Personally, I think this is just trolling the Mavs fans who either think Markkanen is the 2nd coming of Dirk Nowitzki or want him to be.
In my estimation, there isn’t much of a comparison, at all. Other than the obvious – he’s white and European. But let’s try to stay away from those comparisons – just as leading analytics guru and GM Daryl Morey suggests:
Morey’s solution was to forbid all intra-racial comparisons. “We’ve said, ‘If you want to compare this player to another player, you can only do it if they are a different race.’” If the player in question was African American, for instance, the talent evaluator was only allowed to argue that “he is like so-and-so” if so-and-so was white or Asian or Hispanic or Inuit or anything other than black. A funny thing happened when you forced people to cross racial lines in their minds: They ceased to see analogies. Their minds resisted the leap. “You just don’t see it,” said Morey. (link)
But really, in watching 7-8 games of Markkanen this year I don’t see much outside of the usual race/height in terms of comps. To me in terms of athletic ability – Dirk was way faster (go find YouTube clips, here’s a one). If you watch that game you’ll see Dirk being more similar athlete to likes of Al Harrington and Rashard Lewis, who were the top two high school prospects in 1998 according to the Recruiting Services Consensus Index (RSCI). Dirk was a much better leaper, more developed set of offensive moves, and much better ball handler at the same age.
I realize my estimation may seem far out, but then there’s this tweet from Jonathan Wasserman of the Bleacher Report:
So I might not be quite as crazy as you think. Still crazy…but perhaps in good company.
A look at Lauri Markkanen vs Luke Kennard
That brings me to Luke Kennard. The sweet shooting lefty from Duke University. The immediate arguments will probably be, he’s much shorter 6’5 to 6’6 range compared to Lauri (7’0) and he’s a year (11 months) older. Which are factual statements, but are they really any more likely to make a person a quality NBA contributor? The answer is obviously, in and of themselves, no. And as you start to quantity how these players will be playing in the NBA those measurable don’t really take on a lot more value as both of these players will be making their living in the NBA from the perimeter. The main questions will be which has the more well rounded game and least exposable weaknesses to justify their time on the court. There are obviously team fits that should be considered, such as being on a team that has a ball dominant driving player who collapses defenses off of the drive e.g. LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo (yes, I had to spell check it), John Wall, and Russell Westbrook.
So lets look at their stats. Here’s per 100 possessions.
And advanced stats…
As you can see (if you can’t, here’s a Google Doc with the stats) you could easily switch the names and probably wouldn’t notice much of a difference other than a slight increase/decrease in rebounds or assists.
So at this point — maybe you are willing to entertain the thought of — a we need more emphasis on rebounding or passing type of feel. I said maybe as granted, neither is likely to have a huge significant impact on either. Plain and simple, the main reason you consider either Markkanen or Kennard a viable NBA prospect is for their shooting. So let’s take a look closer at their shooting with stats courtesy of Hoop-Math.
Again, if you can’t make the image out, here’s the Google doc.
As you’ll note I highlighted 3 areas with 3 different colors. I’d like to sort out each one. The ones highlighted in yellow look at “At The Rim” shots. We can see that Markkanen is about 16% better (10% more accurate) than Kennard. However, he gets nearly 50% of his shots there via an assist while Kennard’s shots at the time would suggest almost 80% of them are because he was able to get there on his own accord. This could say Markkanen moves exceptionally well without the ball and thus sets himself up for those passes. It could. I’m not against him contributing to that, but he doesn’t seem to be as exceptional as the stat would suggest. He’s got three very athletic dribble penetration guard teammates that contribute to that total. If you watch m(any) of Duke’s games you’ll note Kennard is the primary scorer and does a lot to get to the rim on his accord. If you look over at FTA/FGA though, he’s not any better at getting to the FT line than Markkanen despite all that extra driving to the bucket. In a second we’re going to see why.
In the Mid-range (highlighted in green) we see that the lion’s share of Kennard’s shots (54.1%) are indeed “mid-range” jumpers. This is often where most players “have to” create their shot. For some, it might some might be a preferred area, but for guys with Markkanen’s and Kennard’s range it’s a shot a defense that the defense forces them towards. As a result, it’s generally the lowest assisted shot in basketball. If you watch any Arizona or Duke games you’ll Kennard and Markkanen show preference for shooting a three pointer over the long two as they will often set up for three or step back or side step to get into three point range if the situation allows. Here, it’s a reasonable assumption that Kennard is better creating space to hit that open two as his FG% is about 17% higher than Markkanen’s (36.8%) for roughly the same amount of shots.
As we go further out (highlighted in blue) we can see that 93% of Markkanen’s shots from 3pt range are assisted. That’s incredible. The highest percentage 3pt shot in basketball is the non-dribble 3pt shot. So Markkanen is making his living, most likely, I don’t have dribble stats on all those threes, but he is most likely taking the most accurate 3pt shots he can. If you watch games, I’d wager most of them are also taken from the wings.
Here’s a game vs USC.
Threes from the wing at: 0:25, 0:55, 1:07. 1:17. Banked a 3 from top of the key at 2:00.
Here’s another game vs Arizona State:
Threes from the wing at: 0:42, 0:50, 1:07. Had one from the top of the key at 4:10
One thing you’ll also notice in these games AND other games that Markkaen, that for some reason, Arizona (Markkanen) gets to face a lot of zone defenses. He won’t see any such defenses in the NBA. To me, it seems to be a bit more prevalent in the Pac-12 this season. Either way, it’s generally way more advantageous for 3pt shooters. Again, here, I don’t have an exact statistic for how many shots Markkanen shot vs a zone vs what Kennard would have faced.
This might not help Kennard’s case as much as shedding light more son what kind of player Lauri Markkanen is.
The other issue is there is basically zero probability he becomes even an average defender based off of the current body of work [eye test] and his defensive statistics (0.8 steals and 0.8 blocks per 100 possessions). The tough part is Markkanen doesn’t offer much of anything else on the offensive end other than off-ball shooting as the stats show he doesn’t create much of a shot for himself, even compared to a fairly average athlete with a similar skill set in Luke Kennard.
Both players lack verticality at the rim. If you watched Washington vs Arizona this past Saturday (or any other games) you’ll notice that Markkanen often is going up against guys 6’8 to 6’9 and his shots are mostly contested layups, blocked shots, or layups. Many of which shots will surely get stuffed in the NBA – just ask Jahlil Okafor. It’s hard to find “lowlights” of Markkanen as that’s just not a YouTube thing, but here’s one such example of Markkanen lacking explosion at the point of attack.
End game, I think a range of ceiling [Ryan Anderson] to floor [Steve Novak] that I would realistic expecations for Markkanen, with a decreased efficiency with more minutes played. Here’s a possible 36min projection (NBA stats) range, ceiling to floor, for Markkanen.
Ultimately, I believe Markkanen will be somewhat closer to McDermott than he is to Ryan Anderson. Here’s the trio’s per 40 minutes college stats:
In case you were wondering about strength of schedule, yes, Arizona did play a slightly more difficult schedule than Creighton did during McDermott’s season, but you could juxtapose that to the fact that McDermott was the primary option while Markkanen plays with four very athletic guards (Alkins, Allen, Simmons, Trier) where at least three will likely find their way in the mix to make an NBA roster in the future and is largely not the primary focus of opponent’s defenses.
Where would you take the Doug McDermott [Lauri Markkanen] of the 2017 NBA Draft?*
*In case you were wondering Doug McDermott was taken 11th in the 2014 NBA Draft (Wiggins, Parker, Randle year).