Image Credit: ESPN
Every year in the NBA, there seems to be a rookie who flies under the radar despite having put forth an impressive effort in his first campaign. Last season, that rookie was Chicago Bulls power forward Lauri Markkanen. The 7th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Markkanen averaged 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game on an impressive 36.2% clip from deep. Although his team finished 27-55, good for 13th in the Eastern Conference, Markkanen’s initial season in the NBA left many excited for 2018-19.
That anticipation mounted even more as the 7-footer didn’t make his season debut until December 1 because of an elbow injury. Posting back-to-back 30-point nights on Dec. 21 and 23, respectively, Markkanen reminded many of what he was capable of. He didn’t reach that mark at all in the month of January, but that’s not an indictment on his performance. Posting nearly identical numbers as the month before, it appeared to be a season of very slight improvement for the Finnish big man. That was until… February happened. Take a look at this chart:
*One more game to play in February.
If possible, without immediately gravitating towards the bottom row, check out December and January. Lots of those numbers are extremely similar, right down to the percentages. They’re solid, but unspectacular nonetheless. Now, compare them with February. Markkanen has yet to score less than 20 points in a game this month. Reaching the 30-point mark in four of his last 10 contests, the former Arizona Wildcat has taken his game to another level.
He’s doing it in all facets. The scoring numbers are fantastic, but 12.4 rebounds per game total
Players usually don’t increase shooting volume and have it have a positive relationship with efficiency. Markkanen has been an outlier:
Again, December and January appear to be nearly identical. The blue bar (made field goals) takes a jump in February, as does the orange one (field goals attempted). The blue bar for February is almost exactly half the size of the orange one. That’s a key benchmark for any player in regards to efficiency. When taking into account Markkanen’s three-point marksmanship, he meets that benchmark for sure.
Is Markkanen going to average 26/12 a night on nearly 50% from the field in March? Probably not. Is he going to do it for the rest of the year? Highly doubtful. Has this surge turned the 16-45 Bulls into a good team? Not in the slightest. That doesn’t matter, though. Now finally healthy and with his feet under him, Lauri Markkanen has showcased his ability to embrace a greater role on offense. A 7’0″, 240-pound sharpshooter that can also score inside the arc with ease and knock down free throws with the best of them? That’s a scary sight.