On Monday, Chicago Bulls rookie power forward Lauri Markkanen connected on the 100th 3-pointer of his young career, making him the fastest player to hit the century mark in NBA history. Yes, we knew Lauri had a great shot coming out of the University of Arizona, but no one besides Donald Trump would claim to have seen Lauri's prolific start coming after he was drafted with the 7th pick of the 2017 NBA draft. In a draft widely considered to have numerous franchise players sprinkled in the lottery, Lauri was never mentioned in the same breath as hyped up prospects like Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum, and Josh Jackson. In fact, Lauri was more associated with prospects who had the highest likelihood of being a bust. I was one of those intelligent people lumping Lauri into that list that Fultz now headlines. Boy, was I ever wrong.
More than in any other professional sports league, the future stars of the NBA are usually found within the first several picks of each draft. In the NFL, you can find potential stars well after the first round (Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard was drafted in the 5th round in 2016). The MLB draft is more of a crap shoot, with 40 rounds of madness (Chicago Cubs hero and heartthrob Anthony Rizzo was a 6th round selection in 2007). Many first rounders never even make it to the big leagues, let alone star in it, as it is hard to project how a high school senior will perform four year from now.
The NBA draft though is historically top-heavy with talent. After the first five or six picks, the odds of a team even finding a future starter grow scarce. With only 5 starting positions to fill, most players selected near the end of the 1st round or in the 2nd round will find themselves out of the league within four years. Sure, there are exceptions (the Los Angeles Lakers Kyle Kuzma was drafted 27th and looks better than his teammate Ball already), but for the most part, it stands true.
For example, scoring isn't everything (though it is rather important since whoever scores more points does win), but if you look at the top scorers in the NBA this year, 16 of the top 20 were selected with the first six picks in their respective drafts. On a less quantitative note, right now, quickly think of who the best player in the NBA is today; who came to mind? Was it LeBron James (drafted 1st overall in 2003), Kevin Durant (drafted 2nd overall in 2007), James Harden (drafted 3rd overall in 2009), or Russell Westbrook (drafted 4th overall in 2008)? Take it further and bust out the history books: Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal, Oscar Robertson, Tim Duncan. All six would be in the conversation of the top ten players in NBA history and all six were selected within the top three picks in their respective drafts (all but MJ were actually the number one pick in their respective drafts. Go figure). There is a point you can reach when one will say that what you are saying is overkill. I have reached that point. Top players in the NBA are usually top picks. It is much harder to find stars in the NBA after the first five picks than in any other sport. The talent lies at the top. No one is arguing with any of that. Let's move on.
So far I have been putting together a lot of lists and having fun with it. Did I just learn how to properly us a colon or am I just list happy today? Regardless, let's do another: Jamal Murray, Emmanuel Mudiay, Julius Randle, Ben McLemore, Harrison Barnes, Bismack Biyombo (quite the drop-off in talent from those last two lists to say the least). What did those six players do to make this list? Get drafted. To be exact, those are the last six players to be selected with the 7th pick in the six drafts prior to Lauri being selected with that same pick in 2017. Those six players combine for 0 all-NBA team selections, 0 all-star selections, and 0 franchise players. Only two of those players start for their respective teams today. I can bet the house that none of the names will ever be mistaken as a name that should have been included on either of those first two lists. Those players do not project to ever be a first, second, or even third option on a championship team (sorry Harrison Barnes. You got paid like a star, but that just means you are overpaid). Those players aren't going to change a franchise and honestly, that is alright. When it comes to the 7th pick in the NBA draft, the players considered to be "sure things" have already left the green room and been fitted with a hat. Busts are common by the 7th pick of the draft. That is why you can say the Bulls got lucky with Lauri. A player of Lauri's caliber isn't usually around at that point and wouldn't be around if there was a re-draft tonight. The Bulls got one of the top three players in the 2017 draft at the 7th spot (it will be interesting to compare Lauri to Rookie of the Year front runners Tatum and Donovan Mitchell in a few years), putting the Bulls rebuilding efforts into overdrive.
I have previously documented the legitimate heart attack I experienced when Jimmy Butler was traded away in previous posts, but if you were lucky enough not to read my panicked (and rather troubled) meltdown earlier this year, I basically thought the Bulls got robbed with the draft day trade. Not robbed like the botched liquor store robbery by Dave Chappelle in the 1999 comedy Blue Streak. I am talking about Ocean's Eleven robbed. I really thought we wouldn't see another winning season for at least the next five years.
However, Lauri has erased any fear of having to suffer watching the Bulls weather a long playoff drought. In fact, I think it may just be a one year vacation, as Lauri looks like a seasoned pro just halfway through his rookie season. Now don't get me wrong. Kris Dunn has taken major strides in his second year and Zach LaVine has shown promise in his recent return. Lauri though, is the reason the Bulls future no longer resembles the plot of Terminator 2 (not in the sense that I thought the Bulls future represented some sort of robot basketball players taking over the team, but more in the sense that the Bulls future looked bleak. Lauri is essentially our John Connor). He is a centerpiece we can build around and could be a legitimate 2nd option on a championship caliber team. Averaging nearly 16 points and 8 rebounds per game in his rookie season, Lauri has 20/10 potential for the next 10 years. His 3-point shot is a thing of beauty and which he will only continue to refine. He already shown that his athleticism was vastly underrated, as he can get to and finish around the rim. Throw in the fact he is a hard worker and has a nasty streak about him and you have a talented young player who has future all-star written all over him.
The Bulls thought they were getting a young shooter in the mold of Houston Rockets forward Ryan Anderson (career averages of 13/5) when they drafted Lauri. I thought the Bulls had wasted their pick on a Nikola Mirotic clone. And instead, they picked a franchise cornerstone they can build around for the next decade. They got lucky. We got lucky. The city of Chicago got lucky. Lucky Lauri.