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.

https://gyazo.com/74fea068043a75b5b670fe214e133ecd

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.

https://gyazo.com/e27e34a53e183c83bdc2add7ccacecc5

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.

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7 Responsesso far.

  1. pyrrol says:

    I’ve been hot on Issac for quite a while. I’m really hoping we try to fill the void at PF with our pick. But lately I’ve been hearing buzz that Issac might be off the board by the time we pick. This has caused me to look more at Markkanen and I’ve warmed up to him.

    Here’s one way to look at it.The Wolves need three things really badly—more bulk, more experience and more defense. Issac theoretically will provide D but not bulk and experience. Markkanen will provide bulk but not D or experience. However, looking at everything, while both players will add some things to our offense, Markkanen is the only one with an elite offensive skill between the two–his shooting. Looking a bit at Marrkanen, I think the write up above is really good. But one thing it misses on a bit potentially is his size. He’s a true 7 footer and at 230 he’s nearly 30lbs heavier than Issac. On top of that, his musculature appears excellent and he will surely put on weight and strength. I’m not sure how much Issac can put on and he’s much less strong. If not now, in the near future Markkanen will be able to guard many 4s and 5s, and that will make some of his potential D weaknesses more easy to cover. On the other hand, Issac has been compared to Durrant due to his physique and athletic ability. But Durrant was an elite scorer and shooter coming in to the NBA and became that in the association too. I’m not sure there’s a clear comp there. Issac is coveted for his athletic ability and D, but both those seem to bloom out of problematic skinniness. In other words, maybe a big reason he’s so athletic and dynamic on D is because he’s so thin and not really NBA strong. Zach LaVine is an example. He’s got a lot of talent and can jump out of the gym, but he doesn’t have an NBA body at all yet and it could hold him back, esp on D. And this often is a more pronounced problem with bigs.

    This is all a bit of an exercise in counterintuitive thinking. The obvious is that Issac is projected to be a good defender, maybe a Garnett light, and a complementary scorer as well as a true PF with stretch aspects. In other words, exactly what we need. But some would caution against drafting for need. And when I look into Issac’s eyes, sometimes I see a PF version of Wesley Johnson and then start out of my daymare. Meanwhile, while not likely, Markkanen could be the next Dirk…

  2. Why aren’t the wolves all over the Porzingis talks? Rubio #7 and Dieng. A lineup with Lavine Wiggins Porzingis Towns is almost perfect. Heck I would even risk Lavine #7 and a future pick

    • gjk says:

      They can’t trade any future picks and there’s no way the Knicks do it for anyone below Wiggins.

    • enaidealukal says:

      Reports are that the Knicks are asking for a high pick in this years lottery, a future 1st, and an established player, in any Porzingis trade. Which sort of takes the Wolves out of the running since we can’t trade future picks.

  3. gjk says:

    It bummed me out that teams in front of the Wolves realized how well Isaac fits into the modern NBA and will likely snatch him up before 7. He was the best fit for a lot of reasons, and they now are faced with either drafting a PG and completely torpedoing Rubio’s value or drafting someone who they have to hide defensively. Also, one of the bigs in any modern team’s lineup has to be a somewhat flexible spot because that’s where the matchup changes the most, and Isaac at least seems like a player who could slide to the 3 (and might actually be a 3).

    One way or another, they have to think of using this draft pick on the guy with the highest potential to be an All-Star, no matter what position that is. Wiggins and LaVine as the 2nd and 3rd-best guys on the team is a shaky foundation for contention, and this hopefully is the last time they’re picking in the top 10 for a while. I don’t know who that player is, but that’s who they have to take. The only position they can truly consider locked down is C.

  4. pyrrol says:

    Hearing buzz about Collins. But he seems like a PF/C along the profile of Towns but much inferior and doesn’t really fit a need as a pure PF or combo forward. I also don’t see a high level NBA ability at any major skill. And he’s not mega long or athletic. Seems like a perfect scenario would make him a Mason Plumlee type. Maybe I’m missing something.

    The Trades and talks ahead of the draft have been interesting. The Clippers might get blown up. There is talk of moving Paul and DeAndre was offered to the Suns for Chandler and their pick. Even if none of this happens, it suggests the Clippers are at their wits end with this iteration of their roster. It does seem to have met a disappointing cap. Also Griffin seems to want out pretty bad.

    LA dumped Russell. Is this an admission that they picked the wrong guy and/or Russel too high? I tend to think so. I was skeptical on draft day that he was all that good of an NBA profile. Still, he hasn’t been awful and is still young. But he’s not showtime level. LA gets antsy really fast. They are trying to reboot their rebuild in a way that likely wouldn’t be possible for the Wolves stuck up in the tundra of NBA prestige and weather. Still, perhaps they aren’t being patient. That said, dumping Movgov’s giant contract and getting rid of a prospect they cooled on for Lopez isn’t a bad idea. Aside from Russel’s general flatness thus far, he’s also kind of a tweener guard and I think LA wants a pure point, which they will pick on draft night.

    I wonder what Thibs will do? I get the feeling it will be something obtuse…

  5. enaidealukal says:

    Markkanen= poor mans Andrea Bargnani.. no thanks. If Isaac is gone (seems likely), may as well swing for the fences on Dennis Smith Jr, take Zach-insurance with Monk, or trade the pick. Markkanen looks like his ceiling is bench scorer.

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