How the NBA missed on Lauri Markkanen

Lauri Markkanen's stardom in Utah seemed to come out of nowhere. How did we miss what was right in front of our eyes?
Lauri Markkanen throws it down against Golden State
Lauri Markkanen throws it down against Golden State / Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports
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Lauri's Ever-Growing Legend

This past trade deadline, many rumors circulated around the NBA about Lauri Markkanen's availability--or lack thereof--on the trade market. Since joining the Jazz in his 5th NBA season, Markkanen has become one of basketball's most efficient scorers. Standing 7 feet tall with a beautiful shooting stroke, his long-range attacks can be nearly unstoppable. Markkanen is also plenty strong enough to overpower defenses while driving to the rim. His undeniable skill, paired with his lack of wasteful ball-stopping and turnover-confecting makes him the ideal player to build a great team around.

Yet, when Cleveland traded Markkanen to Utah, everyone thought the key trade piece for the Jazz was the tenacious Collin Sexton. No one outside of Salt Lake City seemed to understand that grabbing Markkanen as a throw-in trade piece was a robbery of the Cavs' front office.

Lauri Markkanen, Cam Reddish
Lauri Markkanen can fly / Alex Goodlett/GettyImages

Lauri Markkanen's basketball journey is littered with unlikely chances. He is a native of Finland, a country where NBA All-Stars are outnumbered by reindeer nearly 200,000 to 1. The young Markkanen would play outside in his backyard during the frigid Scandinavian winters--often reaching 20 degrees below 0 (celsius!!). Basketball has always been a passion for Markkanen, even at a very early age. In an interview with Sports Illustrated while Markkanen was playing for Arizona, Lauri's father, Pekka (who played some ball himself), recalled some of his son's practice habits.

"When he was about 10 or 11 years old, he kept a diary for one of his youth teams. In it, he logged how many hours he practiced his shot. The coach happened to keep the diary and unearthed it recently, relaying its contents to the boy’s father, Pekka: In the journal, Lauri Markkanen wrote that he’d been shooting for four and a half hours . . . per day. “Not per week,” Pekka Markkanen says. “Per day.”"

Sports Illustrated

His insatiable drive earned Markkanen a scholarship to play for Sean Miller's program at the University of Arizona. Who wouldn't want a 5-star forward to join their team, right? Such an offer was rare for a native Finn, but Lauri was even more rare for a native Finn. Markkanen drew the attention of NBA scouts as a collegiate athlete with his ability to shoot above 40% from 3 and rebounded well although he was still growing into his frame. But questions still lingered about how his game would fare in the brawnier, more physical NBA.

Lauri Markkanen
Markkanen in his freshman year with the Wildcats / Christian Petersen/GettyImages

After his standout freshman season in Arizona, Markkanen entered his name into the 2017 NBA Draft, to be picked 7th by the Minnesota Timberwolves before swapping in a draft-night trade to Chicago. For such a unique prospect, it's fascinating to look back and see who was picked before the future All-Star starter. When discussing some of the later-round steals--and some of the early busts--some comparatively viewed Markkanen as a dud a few years into his young career.