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Grading the Jazz: Lauri Markkanen showed he has star power

Former Cavalier made a splash during first season in Utah

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Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen celebrates after a 3-point shot

Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen (23) celebrates after a 3-point shot during a game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023. Markkanen arrived in Utah as part of the trade that sent Donovan Mitchell to the Cavs.

Ryan Sun, Deseret News

Editor’s note: Final installment in a series evaluating and grading every player that was on the Jazz’s final 2022-23 roster.

Over the last year the Utah Jazz traded away three All-Stars in Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley. The team prioritized youth, rebuilding and future flexibility in every decision it made.

Going down that path could have meant a difficult ascent back to having players that could become the face of the franchise, players that a team can build around, players that could dazzle and score in multiple ways and have the potential to become stars. But the Jazz got pretty lucky.

Instead of having to wait for that type of player to be made available or discover one through a future draft, they got a player with untapped potential in the trade with Cleveland. Then the Jazz allowed him to spread his wings and flourish. Is that Finnish music I hear?

Lauri Markkanen — Grade: A+

In his first season with the Jazz, Lauri Markkanen made his All-Star debut as a starter and won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.

He just missed out on an All-NBA selection, but had the second-most voting points of any player that didn’t make an All-NBA team. If we’re looking at the All-NBA teams (three teams of five players) as a rough estimation of the 15 best players in the league, conventional wisdom would say that makes Markkanen a top-20 player. That’s pretty good, especially when you consider that he had most recently been a No. 3 option on a team that didn’t make the playoffs with the Cavaliers.

Markkanen made huge leaps in his game, going from averaging 14.8 points and 5.7 rebounds in the 2021-22 season while shooting at a 44.5% clip overall and 35.8% from 3-point range, to massively improved production in the 2022-23 season with the Jazz, where he posted averages of 25.6 points and 8.6 rebounds shooting 49.9% overall and 39.1% from 3.

He proved himself to be a legitimate three-level scorer who is just as much a threat without the ball in his hands as he is with it. Markkanen can play multiple positions on offense and at 7 feet tall he creates serious matchup problems for the opposition.

After watching Markkanen work as the primary option, leading scorer and main decision-maker with the Finnish national team over the summer, Jazz coach Will Hardy wasted absolutely no time in letting Markkanen know what kind of opportunity was going to be available to him in Utah.

In their first meeting, Hardy told Markkanen that he was going to give him a ton of freedom and Hardy wanted Markkanen to build on what he was doing in Finland. It took almost no time at all for Markkanen to prove that he had more in his bag than what had previously been shown.

The benefits moving forward for the Jazz are endless when it comes to Markkanen. He’s just 25, is under contract through the 2024-25 season on a deal that never pays more than $18 million per year, and he’s an incredibly easy player to build around because of his skill and versatility.

What’s left is for Markkanen to find ways to motivate himself, continue to improve and find ways to impose his will when defenses will become even more focused on him, and lastly but certainly not least, prove that this past season was not a fluke.

Markkanen has all the makings of a player that is poised to become a star in the NBA; what he did during the 2022-23 campaign needs to be repeated and progressed.

There’s always room for improvement and Markkanen will be the first to say that. He can work on his ball handling, his defense, his footwork, his aggressiveness and he can become an even more formidable player. But, this was an absolute breakout season for Markkanen and he deserves to be recognized for how much he progressed.


Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen (23) prepares to go on court for a game against the Indiana Pacers at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News