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Lauri Markkanen makes Finnish basketball history as 7th pick in NBA draft

Finnish basketball star Lauri Markkanen is to play next season with the Chicago Bulls after he was picked seventh in the NBA draft on Thursday. No Finnish player has ever been picked higher than that in the American league's annual event held to allocate new arrivals to NBA clubs.

Lauri Markkanen tuulettelee.
Lauri Markkanen was first picked by the Minnesota Timberwolves and then traded to the Chicago Bulls at Thursday's NBA Draft ceremony. Image: Jason Szenes / EPA

Lauri Markkanen's basketball career will continue in Chicago, with the Chicago Bulls, after a dramatic eveing at the NBA draft in New York. Markkanen had turned up at the glitzy event in a bespoke suit with a Finnish flag sewn into the lining, ready to flash at the cameras when his name was called.

That happened early in the evening. Earlier than for any other Finn in NBA history, in fact, as he was the seventh player to be selected. The previous highest Finnish pick was Petteri koponen, picked 30th by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2007. Next was Hanno Möttölä, selected 40th by the Atlanta Hawks in 2000. Möttölä and Erik Murphy are the only Finns to have played in the NBA before. 

At Thursday's NBA draft ceremony Markkanen was first picked by the Minnesota Timberwolves and then immediately traded to the Bulls along with two other players for the Bulls star Jimmy Butler, a trade the Chicago sports media described as a 'blockbuster' deal.

Finland coach Henrik Dettman said he expects big things from Markkanen.

"There's no rush for Lauri," said Dettman. "He has all kinds of challenges ahead of him, but he has to show that he can handle them. I expect Lauri will in the future be an all-star player."

The 213cm centre has wowed fans at the Arizona Wildcats since he started his college career, averaging 15.6 points per game and scoring an average of 42 percent of his three-point shots. Some pundits have questioned his defensive abilities, but his attacking qualities offer the chance that he could become a huge asset in the big league.

He comes from a sporting family, as both his parents played basketball and his brother Eero Markkanen is a footballer, currently at AIK Solna but formerly of Real Madrid.

EDIT This story has been edited to add Petteri Koponen as the previous highest Finnish pick in the NBA draft.

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