• In the latest episode of the Open Floor podcast, Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver play a game of Fact or Fiction and discuss whether the hype is justified on Lauri Markkanen.
By Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver
January 12, 2018

Comparing NBA players is always a tricky exercise, especially when trying to project the ceilings of young prospects coming out of college. 

In the latest episode of the Open Floor podcast, Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver dive into those treacherous waters and answer reader mail while playing a game of "Fact or Fiction." Among this week's topics: Whether Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen could eventually become a better player than Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis? Markkanen scored a career-high 33 points and outdueled Porzingis in a double-OT victory for the Bulls earlier this week. 

Check out the full episode here and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. (The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity).

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Andrew Sharp: Fact or fiction: Lauri Markkanen has as high of a ceiling as Kristaps Porzingis? We got an email from AJ who said: "If Golliver wasn't a vegan, I would definitely tell him to eat crow regarding his Bulls takes throughout the season." So what do you have to say about the Chicago Bulls thus far? Did you see any of Lauri against Kristaps the other night?

Ben Golliver: Yeah, so I'm wondering why you and AJ feel the need to ask this question after the best day of his life. Lauri's best day of his entire life was yesterday, so now you're going to come out, both of you, holding hands and running around, and cheer about this New World Order that's emanating from America's second city? C'mon, man. You're better than this, Andrew. Haven't we talked about this and understanding that you don't judge people off their very best days, you try and look for the middle ground, not the ultimate peak or ultimate low. Have a little bit of perspective, please...

Sharp: Look, man. Lauri is bombing threes, he just is. I don't want to overdo it on Bulls hype, I don't want to say that Nelson Big Head Bighetti deserves Executive of the Year for swinging that Lauri trade on draft night. And, granted, the one thing with that Bulls-Wolves trade is the Bulls' failure to keep the No. 16 pick—they gave that to Minnesota, which is just insane. There's just no way Thibs was going to say no to the Jimmy Butler deal if the Bulls demanded to keep the No. 16 pick. So that was a big screw up. But big picture, if you look at the forest in Chicago, things are looking up. I am a huge fan of Lauri Markkanen and I just think that as far as him and Kristaps, I think it's not as crazy as people might imagine. It seems like blasphemy to compare anyone to Kristaps, but Lauri is a better shooter. Full stop. He's gonna shoot in the low-40s from three his entire career and Kristaps has yet to do that once. And I think for the last month, Kristaps's shooting has been pretty bleak. So you are not going to get a rim protector with Lauri Markkanen, but in exchange you're getting a more refined offensive player on the perimeter. And he's also more athletic than anyone realized. There's a lot to get excited about in Chicago and I think a lot of people, whenever the Bulls come up, they say, "Oh man, they should be losing. This is just like the Bulls. Even when they to lose, they can't lose." I understand all of that. But I think a core with Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen is not the worst thing in the world. There is reason to be genuinely optimistic. Although, not that the Bulls aren't going to screw it up somehow. But Lauri is for real.

Golliver: OK, so would you have made this same case after they basically lost by 40 points to the Indiana Pacers like two games ago? Would you have had this same feeling of optimism after that? Or, as I said, are you reacting to the best moment of Lauri Markkanen's life?

Sharp: Yes! Who do you think you're talking to? I'm not watching the Bulls every night! I'm not riding the waves up and down. I just think, if you watch Lauri for 20 minutes, you see it. That guy is going to be an All-Star-level player. Kris Dunn, we've seen the Kris Dunn we expected coming out of the draft. Zach LaVine, I've been a fan of his game—possibly, irresponsibly—for the last couple of years. I think Lauri is going to be pretty good, too. All I'm saying is, the pieces are there. Night to night, who knows what's going to happen with that Bulls team. But I would be saying it regardless of what happened against the Knicks this week.

Golliver: So, they've got the third-worst record in the East. The second-worst offense in the entire NBA. Zach LaVine is not good, he's never been good and he will probably not be good once you factor into account defense, which does matter. Markkanen, as you mentioned, does not belong in the same conversation as Porzingis, just because he can shoot three-pointers. That's just not how it works. You have to play both sides of the basketball. Porzingis needs more help. There's no question his offense will look better, his shots will come easier, his points will come easier once he has better teammates. This guy is an excellent defensive player, with a very clearly defensive fit. Markkanen is not. Now in terms of their three-point shooting, they're shooting the same three-point percentage this season. Now you're saying Markkanen is going to be some 45% three-point shooter. Maybe. But he hasn't done it yet. Now I agree he has a nice, smooth stroke. But so does Porzingis. I mean Porzingis, at his height, is the best shooter the NBA has ever seen. 

Sharp: Wow, you're going to force me to dig into the stats here. It cannot be true that they are shooting the same percentage. 

Golliver: Lauri Markkanen is shooting 36.7% on three-pointers. Kristaps Porzingis is shooting 37% on three-pointers. Wow, look at that.

Sharp: OK! [Laughs] What I'm saying is...

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Golliver: No, I'm agreeing with you. Who is the better shooter long-term? Markkanen. Now, everything else that Porzingis can do, especially on the defensive end, makes him a better player. They shouldn't be in the same conversation now, and the only reason they are is because of that game. Now, in terms of Porzingis's refinements, there are a lot. This guy still has a lot of work to do to become the best version of himself. Certainly, he has to become a better passer and playmaker when he's reading a defense and trying to help his teammates. That stuff has to improve. I'm with people who say his shot selection has started to waver a bit because he's starting to believe his hype after a really strong early start. And I'm with the people who question his body. A guy like Markkanen, I think its going to be easier for him over the course of his career to stay healthy than it will be for a guy like Porzingis. That's one point in his favor. But come on, man. Don't do this. Don't overreact.

Sharp: [Laughs] I'm not overreacting. I think it's certainly a valid question. If you gave me a choice of which guy I would want on the Wizards for the next 10 years I'd take Porzingis in a heart beat. By the way, I just pulled up Porzingis's numbers, the reason my perception is skewed is because Porzingis was lights-out in November and hit 42% of his threes, hit 32% in December and is 37% through January. So things have really fallen off for him over the last month of the half. But you're right, if Porzingis is healthy, he'll probably be the better player. You also make the point that the Knicks have no idea how to get him the ball, where to get him the ball. He's out there with Michael Beasley who looks the other way half the time and leaves Porzingis flailing in the post. And I don't really trust Jeff Hornacek to figure out the right answers to those questions, either. So Porzingis has questions to answer about his own game and the Knicks have questions to answer. All I'm saying is, the Bulls... I'm not going to become a full-on Bulls believer, but some of this s--- is real. And it's kind of crazy how much there is to be genuinely excited about after how dark it was last summer.

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