After his breakout season, where does Lauri Markkanen rank among the NBA’s best?
Markkanen made a major leap in the 2022 season, becoming one of the top players in the league
Before this season, Lauri Markkanen was viewed by most as a solid, if somewhat underdeveloped NBA player.
A regular starter for the Cleveland Cavaliers — and the Chicago Bulls before that — the former top 10 pick (No. 7 in 2017) was good, if somewhat nondescript.
Markkanen wasn’t an All-Star.
He wasn’t found on lists of the top 100 players in the league (in fairness, there are around 450 players in NBA every season, which makes cracking top 100 player rankings no easy feat).
When national pundits graded the trade that sent former Utah Jazz All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell to the Cavaliers, in exchange for Markkanen, Collin Sexton, Ochai Agbaji plus multiple first-round picks and swaps, Markkanen was not exactly an afterthought, but he also wasn’t viewed as the most exciting piece in the deal.
CBS Sports’ Colin Ward-Henninger wrote: “Utah added solid young players on friendly contracts in Sexton and Markkanen, who can either become part of the franchise’s future or eventually be flipped for — you guessed it — more picks.”
ESPN’s Kevin Pelton wrote: “Lastly, Utah inherits the final three seasons of the contract Markkanen signed with Cleveland via sign-and-trade last summer. With the Jazz, Markkanen should have the ability to return to his natural power forward position after credibly handling a starting role on the wing last season. Markkanen has scored with above-average efficiency at either spot, though his defense is a weakness at both.
The Deseret News’ Sarah Todd described Markkanen as a “young player with a lot of untapped potential,” but quickly added, “additionally, and probably most importantly, the Jazz receive three unprotected first-round picks (2025, 2027, 2029) and two unprotected pick swaps in 2026 and 2028.”
How things have changed.
After the 2022-23 season, Markkanen is no longer an untapped, underdeveloped former lottery pick.
Hands down the Jazz’s best player this season, Markkanen is now an All-Star and the NBA’s Most Improved Player.
He is also the first player in NBA history to have 200 3-pointers and 100 dunks in a single season and a genuine threat to earn All-NBA honors later this month.
“I don’t know what the ceiling is on Lauri,” Jazz head coach Will Hardy told the Deseret News. “I don’t think any of us do, but I’m pretty sure we haven’t seen it yet.”
After winning MIP honors, Markkanen told reporters, “It’s a good recognition of the work you put in, but it’s just the beginning. I want to make the next jump and be able to lead this team to the playoffs and do something big with this group. So, it feels good to get this award, but I’m even more excited going into the future and to just keep working harder.”
There is little doubt that Markkanen is now one of the better players in the NBA.
He ranked No. 27 in the league in the NBA’s Player Impact Estimate, No. 46 in offensive rating, No. 51 in usage percentage and No. 69 in true shooting percentage this season.
In the Ringer’s player rankings — updated on May 1 — Markkanen comes in at No. 27, just behind Indiana Pacers point guard Tyrese Haliburton, but ahead of New York Knicks point guard Jalen Brunson (No. 28), New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (No. 29), and Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl Anthony-Towns (No. 32).
Markkanen rates better than any player, save for Mitchell, that the Jazz traded or acquired last offseason, including Rudy Gobert.
Of Markkanen, the Ringer writes: “Effortless shooter who doesn’t have to go out of his way — or derail the offense — to rack up points and make a winning impact.”
Markkanen is also ranked No. 27 in CBS Sports rankings, after not cracking the top 100 to start the season.
Writes Michael Kaskey-Blomain: “They say that change can be a good thing, and that’s certainly been the case for Markkanen in Utah this season. In his first year with the Jazz, Markkanen is averaging career highs across the board — 24.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game, while shooting 51% from the field and 41% from long range. He was named to his first All-Star team and ... could also be in line for All-NBA consideration if he continues to play at such a high level.”
Per Five Thirty Eight’s RAPTOR metric, Markkanen is a top 25 player in the league, standing shoulder to shoulder with Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant (No. 24) and Sacramento Kings center Domantas Sabonis (No. 26).
Basketball Monster rates Markkanen No. 20 in the league, in terms of value, part of a tier that includes Dallas Mavericks guard/forward Luka Doncic, Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker and Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James.
Markkanen hasn’t been recognized across the board as one of the best players in the league, though.
He isn’t found in the Sporting News’ final player rankings (top 30) for the 2022-23 season, for instance, having been edged out by top 25 players in Haliburton, Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo, Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam, Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young, Chicago Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan and Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards.
If Markkanen is named to one of three All-NBA teams this year any debate will be over, though.
Markkanen will have gone from a regular NBA starter to an elite NBA star in a single season.
It is a nearly unprecedented leap, one few saw coming, and that the Jazz are no doubt immensely grateful for.