Jonathan Isaac and Larui Markkanen: Big Possibilities
The draft is 4 days away, and the Wolves have a choice to make. At AWAW, we’ve looked into just about every scenario that has been rumored thus far. Will they trade the pick? Is Ricky on the way out? If so, how about a point guard like Dennis Smith? Who the hell is OG Anunoby? Kidding.
The one (or two) scenario(s) we haven’t touched on here is probably the most likely. Jonathan Isaac of Florida State and Lauri Markkanen of Arizona are vastly different one-and-done prospects with one thing in common: they’re both being looked at in the 5-10 range. Hey! The Wolves pick 7!
The Wolves have a solid-to-good starting power forward in Gorgui Dieng, but a team with a playoff drought like the Wolves aren’t allowed to skip a power forward they love because “we have Gorgui Dieng”. As fundamentally sound and dependable (and likeable) as Dieng is, the Wolves aren’t good enough to draft for fit and need right now.
If Jonathan Isaac falls to 7, which is not a foregone conclusion right now (DraftExpress has him going 6 to Orlando in their most recent mock draft), he seems to be the most popular pick at any position for the Wolves.
Looking at him from an eye test point of view (which is what I generally do for the draft), Isaac has all the physical tools to be an awesome athletic fit next to Karl-Anthony Towns. He’s quick, long, and will enter the league in the top percentile for speed among players 6’11 or taller.
He’s only 205 pounds, but he runs the floor better than nearly anyone he played against in college. This includes his lateral quickness and his ability to react defensively, both on the interior and (more importantly, given the influx out 3-point specialist bigs) on the perimeter. Mike Schmitz of DraftExpress makes great videos of every top prospect ever year. From one of his videos, this example of Isaac’s ability to recover defensively on the perimeter got me excited.
The Wolves already have three guys that can score 20+ points per game in their starting lineup, so more scoring it isn’t necessarily a giant need for them in this draft. If Thibs decides that Jonathan Isaac is the best player in this draft, it will be because of plays like the one above. It will be because he has the defensive potential and versatility to make life easier for Towns and Wiggins to focus on offense (not that they shouldn’t work to improve dramatically defensively in their own right).
Offensively, he’s a work in progress. As Lucas Seehafer described it in his and Billy Bohl’s “To Trade The Pick or Not to Trade The Pick” piece, he is very much a project on that end.
One thing you might not expect: he can shoot and make threes a bit, but not the way you’d hope. He shot 35 percent from deep on just under 3 attempts per game, but it wasn’t at a consistent clip by any stretch. In fact, the majority of his makes came in his first 6 games, where he shot 12-24 from deep. He shot just 19-65 (29 percent) from beyond the arc for his final 26 contests.
This could mean that his coach, Leonard Hamilton, just wanted him to focus on playing inside the basket, using his athleticism to help on the interior and at the elbow. In fact, that’s likely a big part of it. But confidence has to play at least a small part in that as well, for the numbers to fall off so dramatically.
But inside the arc, he shot the ball well, at nearly 60 percent from the field. He showed a knack for getting to the rim with long strides, and has a smoothness to his game that reminds me a bit of Wiggins (the lanky frames may help with that comparison).
He has a long way to go on the offensive end, but his potential is there. Having a guy with a 7-1 wingspan that can play the 3 or the 4 (maybe the 5, eventually, if he puts on some more weight) is exciting, especially after watching him play defense. There’s a lot to like there.
While Isaac is a high defensive potential guy with things to work out offensively, Lauri Markkanen is, in a lot of ways, the complete opposite. Markannen will be drafted in the lottery for one specific reason: he’s 7 feet tall and can shoot the hell out of the basketball.
He shot 42 percent from deep this year, had 4+ threes in 8 of 37 games this year, and did so with a poise that you don’t always see from dudes that big. The thing that stands out about Markkanen’s ability to score isn’t just his smooth stroke. It’s how quickly he makes decisions. He never hesitates on shooting the ball. He’s decided what he’s doing with the ball while the pass is mid-air, on its way to him. You can tell that his confidence is sky-high for a 19-year-old kid living his first year in the United States.
Markkanen would fit wonderfully with the Wolves’ core not because they need more scoring. We’ve established they don’t need another guy to fill it up in that regard. He fits because he was a top 2 catch-and-shoot player in the country this past year (maybe top 1), and more importantly, he shoots threes extremely well. For all the offensive success the Wolves’ big 3 had, the Wolves were still dead last in three pointers made, with a difference of 14 threes between last and 29th. That’s a 42 point difference.
And, to be clear, while he certainly isn’t Isaac in terms of movement or athleticism, he isn’t a slow doof, either. He moves really well from end to end, and is big and long enough to muscle down low with most NBA 4s. He is a low-key good passer, as well, though most situations don’t call for him to do any playmaking.
Where Markkanen falls off is on the defensive end. He moves well from end to end, but not well enough to stand with some of the quicker 4s in the NBA. And he certainly isn’t big enough to play the 5 and muscle down low with NBA centers. He was an okay rebounder in college, but he may struggle to make a big impact on that end at the next level, especially where a certain bounce and determination are required to make a real impact in that way.
The fear with Markkanen is that, while he’s going to be a stud shooter in the NBA, what else will he be able to do? Will the shooting on its on be enough? Will it make up for the defensive liability he may or may not present?
That is the question Thibs will have to answer on Thursday, if he decides that he wants to go big. In reality, the ideal prospect would be Lauri Markkanen’s shooting touch, strength, and feel for the offensive side of the ball combined with Jonathan Isaac’s athleticism, defensive potential and drive. Sadly, such a mutation process is not possible.
So, if both are available at the 7, what will Thibs decide? Thibs’ general demeanor, coaching style and vocal suggestion seems to lend favor to Isaac. Defense always wins Thibs over, and Isaac seems to genuinely enjoy playing good defense. Thibs would love that. On the other hand, the Wolves’ gaffer is well aware of how badly his team shot from deep last year.
Everything will be on the table on Thursday, including these two guys. There’s a chance both will be available for selection. What happens next, at this point, is a mystery.