The Utah Jazz were supposed to be entering a rebuilding period but currently sit at 12-10, right in the battle of the Western Conference. Lauri Markkanen has been a major contributor to this, and even the quick turnaround for Markkanen wasn’t expected. With how the Jazz are utilizing him, Markkanen is finally being able to showcase his skills, and the fashion he is doing so is shocking many!
Markkanen is now on his third team after originally being the centerpiece for the Chicago Bulls. Markkanen showed promise as a rookie in 2017, starting 68 games, averaging 29.7 minutes, hit 36.2% of his three-point shots, while also making 84.3% of his free throws and securing an average of 7.5 rebounds. His future seemed bright with the Bulls, until his third season saw his opportunities get limited, which turned him into a spot-up shooter. That sudden shift seemed to have rattled Markkanen as in his fourth season with the Bulls over an average of 25.8 minutes his three-point shot percentage increased to 40.2%, but his free throw percentage dropped to 82.6%, and rebounds dropped to 5.3. The main reason his three-point shot increased was due to that being how the Bulls wanted to use Markkanen, despite him having the potential to do much more.
The 2021-22 season saw him start over with a new team in the Cleveland Cavaliers. Markkanen once again became a key player as he averaged 30.8 minutes of playing time over 61 games and totaled 900 points. It was the start of him being able to gain his confidence back, but his time in Cleveland was short as he was traded to the Utah Jazz in return for star Donovan Mitchell. It is what Markkanen did before this season that allowed him to fully gain his confidence back.
Before this season, Markkanen went to play for Finland in the EuroBasket tournament to refine his skills. During that time, he averaged 28 points per game. Markkanen also helped the Finland team make history with a 43 point performance against Croatia that led to Finland advancing to the quarter-finals for the first time. In addition to the 43 points against Croatia, he also had nine rebounds, three assists, and three steals. While Finland wouldn’t move past the quarter-finals, Markkanen still played for a total of 199 minutes over seven games in which he made 61.5% of two-point shots, 40.5% three-point shots, 90.6% free throws while also having 57 rebounds, 17 assists, and 11 steals. This time playing in the EuroBasket tournament allowed him to evolve into a true three-level scorer.
Markkanen has shown improvement in many aspects of his game. The first being how he is able to use his 6’4, 240 pound frame to drive by defenders to get to the rim and has increased his finishing rate. Before he would shy away from contact, now he is using his size to embrace it. He is even showcasing just how great his off-ball skills are due to how easily he is able to make good cuts, creating space for himself. This is shown as on cutting layups and dunks, he is converting at an 84.8% rate. In addition, the Jazz are truly allowing Markkanen to show how effective he can be from all levels, as he is converting 37.3% of his three-point shots and 56.5% of his mid-range shots.
The improvement of Markkanen has led to the success of the team as a whole. With the system the Jazz run, being able to execute in transition is crucial. Markkanen does that. With his size, he is able to grab the rebound, take the ball up the court, and with his ability to make great reads find the open teammate in transition to get the score. He has also been decent on defense to provide help and use his size once again to force misses at the rim. Through the start of the season so far, Markkanen has a career-high in average minutes played with 33.5, completing 36.6% of his three-point shots, 81.9% of his free throws, and has totaled 185 rebounds, 50 assists, 17 blocks, and 11 steals.
From Chicago to Utah, Markkanen has turned his weaknesses into strengths to create a well-rounded game. In doing so, he has been a major key to the success of the Jazz, and will only continue to improve as the season goes on.