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Lauri Markkanen makes top 20 of ESPN’s NBA under-25 player rankings

Chicago Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen earned the No. 19 spot on ESPN’s Top 25 Under 25 NBA rankings for 2018. The list, which was compiled by a group of experts, is based on “future potential” and not merely limited to their current level of ability.

Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Pelicans big man Anthony Davis were in a narrow heat for the top two spots in the rankings. Bulls guard Zach LaVine was included on the individual rankings of one of the evaluators but didn’t make the overall list.

Markkanen, the Bulls’ 2017 first-round pick, is in the middle of a solid debut season with the team. He’s averaged 14.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game while cementing his role in the starting lineup as a 20-year-old. The seven-footer has set multiple NBA rookie records with his shooting prowess, and could become one of the league’s top forwards in short order.

The praise for Markkanen’s impressive offensive skills isn’t surprising, but it’s on the other side of the court where he’s really surpassed expectations.

Lauri Markkanen was the only Bull to make ESPN's Top 25 Under 25 rankings. | Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

“His ability to move his feet on defense has been a revelation at times this season, too,” said ESPN’s Chris Herring. “A number of players, [Kristaps] Porzingis in particular, learned the hard way that Markkanen is a far better, more versatile defender than he’s given credit for.”

Not everything has been perfect for Markkanen so far. For example, the Bulls are outscored by 10 points per 100 possessions with the rookie on the floor, per NBA.com, but they’re only outscored by 2.9 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the bench. It’s more complicated than just pinning that swing in results on the young forward, but it’s telling that he hasn’t become a real game-changer yet. The Bulls remain a team in transition.

However, this was a ranking about the future more than anything, and Markkanen has a bright one in Chicago. He may not be on the same level as some other under-25 NBA players, but there’s still a lot to be excited about with him. You can check out the full rankings at ESPN Insider.