The legend of Lauri Markkanen began months before the 7-footer from Finland arrived at Arizona. Markkanen gave the basketball world a hint of what was to come at the FIBA U20 Europe tournament in July, where he averaged nearly 25 points per game on 40 percent three-point shooting even as the Finns placed No. 15 in the 16-team field.
Markkanen’s freshman season at Arizona has justified the hype. Through the first 19 games of his college career, Markkanen has drained 45 threes in 92 attempts, good for a 48.9 percent clip. He’s leading Arizona in scoring (17 points per game) and rebounding (7.4 per game) during a season that should have been drowned out by a tidal wave of adversity. Instead, the Wildcats are 17-2 and unbeaten in the Pac-12 ahead of Saturday’s showdown with Lonzo Ball and UCLA.
In Markkanen’s last three games against Colorado, Arizona State, and USC, he’s combined to go 13-of-18 from three. Here’s a video cut of 20 of his threes-pointers this season:
College basketball has never seen a freshman 7-footer shoot the ball like this before. Consider that Markkanen has already hit more three-pointers than Frank Kaminsky did during his Wooden Award-winning senior season at Wisconsin. The only historical comparison is former West Virginia cult hero Kevin Pittsnogle, who hit 91 threes at a 40 percent clip in 2006. The difference is Pittsnogle was a senior while Markkanen is doing this as a freshman with a three-point percentage nine points higher.
The first thing that jumps out about Markkanen’s shot is how smooth and quick the release is. There are no wasted movements in his mechanics. He excels in the pick-and-pop, but there are also examples of him running off screens to get open looks.
Even as Markkanen’s defensive ability remains a question mark, his combination of elite size and shooting makes him a likely top-10 NBA draft pick. Just look at how Ryan Anderson’s shooting has been able to help unlock James Harden this year. In a league that places an enormous emphasis on spacing and is shooting more threes than ever, Markkanen is a major commodity.
In the meantime, Arizona is happy to keep blitzing the Pac-12 with a completely unprecedented weapon.