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Why the Jazz need Lauri Markkanen to realize he is the No. 1 option

With Jazz forward playing like an All-Star, he needs to embrace his success

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Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen (23) takes a breath during a game against the Indiana Pacers at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022.

Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen looks on during a game against the Indiana Pacers at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. The Jazz newcomer has performed like an All-Star since arriving in Utah.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

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Part of what has made Lauri Markkanen so successful this season is the unselfish nature of the Utah Jazz’s offense. Another part has been Markkanen’s ability to play off the ball. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands to create for himself and if the ball comes to him and he’s open, he knocks it down.

That’s fine when you’re the second or third option on a team, but the NBA was put on notice early this season with Markkanen playing like an All-Star and that has created a situation where Markkanen needs to step up to the plate a little bit more.

“I love when we move the ball around, I love that everybody is aggressive,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said. “But I do think there’s moments where we can recognize the hot hand a little bit better.”

For example, at the end of the third quarter Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Clippers, Markkanen had an incredibly efficient 18 points on just seven shot attempts.

“That’s pretty dang efficient,” teammate Kelly Olynyk said. “We want him to be aggressive. And he’s been unreal for us this year, scored in so many different ways. The pressure on defense has created open shots or others. Sometimes when that happens, that opens up Jordan for a lot of what he’s getting.”

Olynyk’s point is right on the money. The Clippers were working pretty hard to keep the ball out of Markkanen’s hands and were sending a lot of defensive attention his way. That helped pave the way for Jordan Clarkson to score 33 points en route to a Jazz win.

It’s not so much that Markkanen needs to shoot the ball more — he’s only had one game this season in which he’s taken fewer than 10 shot attempts — but he needs to be just as aggressive with the ball when he’s having an off night as he is when he’s shooting the lights out.

That’s one of the best pathways forward for the Jazz. If Markkanen starts to force defenses to make tough decisions by acting like he’s the No. 1 option on this team, at the very least, it will open the door for the rest of the Jazz’s dynamic scorers to eat.

It’s all well and good for Markkanen to continue to be unselfish but eventually there is going to come a time when he needs to realize that he is the star on this Jazz team. Now is the time to start building those habits.

New with the Jazz

This week in Jazz history

On Dec. 5, 2000, the Utah Jazz’s Karl Malone converted a finger roll in the lane for two points, moving past Wilt Chamberlain and into second place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Malone scored 31 points in Utah’s 98-84 win over Toronto, giving him 31,443 career points, 24 more than Chamberlain’s 31,419 points.

This week on ‘Unsalvageable’

Check out “Unsalvageable,” hosted by Deseret News Utah Jazz beat reporter Sarah Todd and lifelong Jazz fan Greg Foster (no, not that Greg Foster).

This week the crew recaps the recent losses and the win against the Clippers that broke the losing streak. Additionally the crew discusses who the Jazz’s MVP is and talks about what they’ve seen and are hoping to see from Collin Sexton, Talen Horton-Tucker, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Lauri Markkanen.

The podcast has moved to a new feed, so remember to follow or subscribe by searching for “Unsalvageable” through your podcast provider.

New episodes come out every week. You can listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and anywhere else you stream podcasts.

From the archives

Extra points

  • Lauri Markkanen’s trials in Chicago paved way for breakout season with Jazz (KSL.com)
  • Meet the NBA skills trainer working with three Utah Jazz players (Salt Lake Tribune)
  • What are the fewest points scored by a team in an NBA game? (Deseret News)

Around the league

The Milwaukee Bucks are finally getting Khris Middleton back.

Atlanta Hawks lose De’Andre Hunter and John Collins to injury.

Warriors’ Draymond Green fined for obscene language.

Up next

Dec. 2 | 7 p.m. | Utah Jazz vs. Indiana Pacers | AT&T SportsNet

Dec. 3 | 8 p.m. | Utah Jazz vs. Portland Trail Blazers | AT&T SportsNet

Dec. 7 | 7 p.m. | Utah Jazz vs. Golden State Warriors | AT&T SportsNet

Dec. 9 | 7 p.m. | Utah Jazz vs. Minnesota Timberwolves | AT&T SportsNet