Unique Markkanen Brings NBA Star Intrigue

By Kaelen Jones

Arizona Wildcats freshman Lauri Markkanen embodies the NBA’s evolution of modern post players as well as just about any prospect can.

The seven-foot forward is averaging 15.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game during his freshman campaign, and he has the ability to play inside the post and out along the perimeter. He’s drawn compliments from several analysts across the country for his skill and promise.

The latest pundit to ring praises of the Finnish product: CBS Sports lead college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg, who talked about Markkanen while joining Sports360AZ’s “The Brad Cesmat Show” on Wednesday.

“I like his size, his strength, his mobility, his stroke. His IQ seems to be really good for a young player,” Kellogg told Cesmat in the recent phone interview. “There’s some guys that you watch and they just look pro-like, and he’s that. And he looks potentially All-Star pro-like.”

While Markkanen’s talent is clear, his play has slipped as of late.

Through his last three games, he’s gone a combined 4-for-20 (20 percent) from the field, scoring eight or fewer points in each contest.

The No. 9 Wildcats are 2-1 during Markkanen’s funk. The positive record, however, comes with the caveat of a 27-point embarrassment at the hands of the then-No. 13 Oregon, followed by a nip-and-tuck victory over lowly Stanford.

As a team, Kellogg says Arizona is going through an adjustment period of sorts following the return of guard Allonzo Trier, who was held out of the first 19 games of the season after testing positive for performance enhancing drugs in September.

Prior to Trier entering the lineup, Markkanen was averaging 17 points per game on 52-percent shooting. Since Trier’s return on Jan. 21, Markkanen has averaged 11 points per game, while shooting at a 36.1-percent clip.

“There’s always an adjustment,” Kellogg said.

“You’d love to be able to try to adjust after an injection of talent, so I think (Arizona head coach Sean Miller) and his staff are fine with that, but it is part of the process, and everything goes through it. There’s no team that’s immune to adjusting, whatever the circumstances are that cause you to adjust—length of season, injuries, adding a player, roles changes… There’s so many variables.”

More or less, the modification hasn’t thoroughly affected results (Arizona is 5-1 since Trier’s season debut), and despite their growing pains, the Wildcats’ potential is still apparent.

According to Kellogg, Arizona has the talent and potential to be considered a one- or two-seed entering the NCAA Tournament. Whether that potential is fully realized remains to be seen, and if it weren’t that would leave the possibility of it never being achieved should Markkanen decide to enter the NBA Draft.

“With the number of these outstanding freshmen, including Lauri, they have to make a decision,” Kellogg said. “(Markkanen) looks like he’s got all the ingredients to be a high-level, long-term NBA player, it’s just a matter of when he decides to start that clock for himself.”

The 2017 NCAA Tournament will tip Tuesday, March 14, before concluding in Phoenix, Ariz., which is hosting the Final Four (April 1-3) for the first time.