Rookie and former Arizona star Lauri Markkanen is leading the Chicago Bulls in scoring and rebounds this season.
The sweet-shooting 7-0 forward, the No. 7 overall pick in 2017 NBA Draft, is averaging 14.7 points and 8.1 boards this year.
If he keeps it up, Markkanen will become the first rookie to lead the team in both categories since Elton Brand way back in 1999-2000.
And opponents have started taking notice.
“When other teams are putting their game plans together, he’s No. 1 as far as how they’re going to guard him, how they’re going to play him,’’ Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg told the Chicago Sun Times of Markkanen. “He’s demanding a lot of attention. It’s either switching or blitzing almost every time.”
“We’re going to continue to play through him, get him experience in these situations,” added Hoiberg said. “We have confidence he can close out games just because of his confidence and mentality.’’
Markkanen said he is starting to get used to the NBA game.
“I’m getting more comfortable,” said Markkanen. “You have to work your butt off, but everything is starting to slow down a little bit and that’s a good thing.”
A college star at Arizona, Markkanen led the team in rebounds and was second in scoring last season, averaging 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds, guiding the Wildcats to a 32-5 record and the NCAA’s Sweet 16.
Markkanen shot 42.3 percent from three and scored the second most points all-time in a season for a freshman in school history.
He also finished in the top five all-time for a Zona frosh in rebounding, made three-point field goals, made free throws, and free throw percentage.
The Finnish star was named to the All-Pac-12 First-team and was an AP Third-team All-American last year.
Markkanen was the top scorer at the 2016 FIBA U20 European Championship in Helsinki, averaging a whopping 24.9 points per game for Finland during the tournament.
The explosive Markkanen was also the leading scorer at the 2015 U18 European Championships in Greece when he averaged 18.2 points along with 6.3 rebounds, including a monster 27-point, 10-rebound double double in a win over the Ukraine.
Hardwoodhoudini.com’s Michael DePrisco raves about Markkanen’s prowess from behind the arc.
“Markkanen is an excellent shooter for his size, as he fits the mold of the modern NBA big man,” wrote DePrisco. “His stroke is effortless, and smooth. Markkanen will be able to stretch defenses at the next level.”
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