Lauri Markkanen. That’s who holds the hopes and dreams of the Finland squad at the FIBA World Cup. After the season he had in the NBA, he might be able to shoulder that load.
The track record isn’t there for the Finnish. This is only their second World Cup appearance and they currently rank 24th in the world. Their previous World Cup finish was 22nd.
But expectations surge when a star player is involved and Markkanen qualifies. The NBA’s Most Improved Player was an All-Star for the first time this past season, his first with the Utah Jazz. He averaged 25.6 points per game, hitting 39.1 percent of his threes. That kind of weapon can easily change the balance of a game.
Markkanen is only as strong as his supporting cast, and that’s where there are questions. An intriguing young player is Miro Little, who is about to embark on his freshman season at Baylor. The point guard could use the World Cup as a platform to spring toward success in Waco.
Beyond that, the roster leaves something to be desired. There are a few names college basketball fans may be familiar with, such as Federiko Federiko, Jacob Grandison, and Olivier Nkamhoua. The other stalwarts are Mikael Jantunen, who played college ball for a couple of seasons at Utah and recently signed with Paris Basketball, and guard Sasu Salin, who has been playing professionally for more than 15 years and could be approaching a swan song with the national team.
Finland also has the misfortune of being in a very difficult group. The other teams in the group are Germany, Australia, and host Japan. It’s arguably the most difficult group of the Group Stage and it’s tough to imagine only two teams will survive it.
If Markkanen can bottle some of his magic from this past NBA campaign, however, Finland can conceivably advance. From there, all bets are off if the United States stands in its way.