Lauri Markkanen is having himself a hell of a season. After being traded to the Utah Jazz in the blockbuster trade that sent Donovan Mitchell east to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the 25-year-old Finnish forward has thrived in his role as the focal point of Utah’s offense. He was instrumental to the Jazz’s hot start 10-3 start to the season that saw them make a push to the top of the Western Conference.
While the Jazz have not kept up with the winning, and have now fallen to a 20-21 record, that still puts them in a play-in position with a couple of games clearance above the Minnesota Timberwolves, LA Lakers, and Oklahoma City Thunder. Markkanen has been integral to their surprising play this season thanks to the huge leap he’s made.
His latest game against the Houston Rockets saw him drop a career-high 49 points and eight rebounds while shooting an efficient 15 of 27 from the field and 13 of 13 from the free throw line. There was little that the Rockets could do to stop him.
It’s fitting, then, that his breakout performance came on the same day that saw him listed in seventh place in fan voting for the 2023 All-Star game in Salt Lake City.
Markkanen has shown all of us this season that he’s a shot taker and shot maker. Even though they lost to the Sacramento Kings last week, his near buzzer-beater in front of his home crowd showed just how confident se’s become with his game.
His stats have vastly improved across the board, too. Here’s a look at his averages in Cleveland last year to what he’s producing in Utah this season.
Cleveland / Utah per-game comparisons
- Minutes: 30.8 / 34.1
- Points: 14.8 / 23.9
- Rebounds: 5.7 / 8.5
- Assists: 1.3 / 1.9
- Field goal attempts: 11.5 / 15.5
- Field goal percentage: 44.5% / 52.9%
- Three-point attempts: 6.2 / 7.0
- Three-point percentage: 35.8% / 42.3%
- Free-throw attempts: 2.6 / 5.1
- Free-throw percentage: 86.8% / 86.8%
- Turnovers: 0.9 / 1.9
- Usage rate: 18.6 / 23.7
- Real Plus-Minus: 2.10 / 4.77
Even though he’s only playing 3.3 more minutes per game, Markkanen is thriving with an increased usage rate. His production has improved across the board, with big leaps in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage and three-point percentage. His improved shooting numbers are even more impressive because he’s taking more shots this season.
He may be a little too old to become the Most Improved Player, since he’s already in his sixth season, but the man deserves credit for bringing an exciting brand of basketball and a winning mentality to a Utah squad that lost its two perennial All-Stars in a single offseason. Since the game is in Salt Lake City this season, I’d love to see him get a standing ovation as one of the All-Star reserves.