When the Utah Jazz acquired Lauri Markkanen from the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2022, there was no doubt that he was a good player. But what he showed in his first season with the Jazz was that he was ready to make a leap from good to great.

In that first year in Utah, he earned his first All-Star selection, was named an All-Star starter and won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. So, as the rebuilding Jazz embarked on the second year of their rebuild, the question for Markkanen was, could he replicate his success from the previous season? Or was that breakout year a fluke?

Lauri Markkanen — A

The fact that Lauri Markkanen jumped out as a player who has the ability to lead a team or at worst be a No. 2 option on a title-contender was as shocking to the Jazz as it was to the rest of the NBA world. There were always flashes and possibilities and potential, but opportunity and timing were just perfect in Utah.

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He was given the chance to spread his proverbial wings in Utah and showed everyone that he was more than just a spot-up shooter and starter-level player. He’s exactly the type of player that NBA teams dream about building around because he’s so versatile and well suited to play with anyone and in any kind of system.

If we’re just looking at stats to compare what Markkanen was able to do in the 2023-24 season compared to the previous season, it’s easy to see that his All-Star year was not a fluke. In his first season with the Jazz he averaged 25.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.9 turnovers per game while shooting 49.9% overall, 39.1% from 3-point range and 87.5% from the free-throw line.

Utah Jazz head coach Will Hardy congratulates Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen as he comes off the floor at a timeout as the Jazz and Raptors play at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 12, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

In the 2023-24 season, Markkanen averaged 23.2 points per game, 8.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.4 turnovers while shooting 48% overall, 39.9% from distance and 89.9% from the charity stripe.

There’s some context needed for some of the numbers. Markkanen was playing with a younger and more inexperienced roster and was also a marked man on every scouting report this season. Even with those challenges, he found ways to be just as impactful and, in some cases, even more so than the previous season. He was also taking more 3s and making them at a higher rate while garnering a lot more attention.

Markkanen was also asked to assume more of a leadership role, which he took on with even more enthusiasm in his second year with the Jazz than he did the first year. He’s not the loudest or most vocal player, but he is certainly the one on the team that leads by example and has found that what he says really matters to his teammates.

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So what is next? Now that we know Markkanen can keep a steady diet as the player we saw emerge in Utah, now we need to know if he can expand his game. Right now he’s really great as a teammate that can score effectively and efficiently without the ball in his hands, but he needs to be able to take on matchups in isolation.

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If he’s going to take the next step and become someone that is more aggressive at the end of games and in times when he needs to put the team on his back, he needs to be able to create for himself.

That’s something that he’s been working on with the Jazz coaching staff and is going to continue to work on. It will certainly be something that will go into a grade after the 2024-25 season. Additionally, his versatility on defense might need to be tested a bit and so will his ability to play through contact and find new ways of playing at the rim.

Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen (23) shoots the ball over San Antonio Spurs forward Jeremy Sochan (10) during a game at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News

He’s already a great lob threat and is one of the most potent and threatening dunkers in the NBA while also being a huge problem on the perimeter, but if those two parts of his game can marry, so that he can punish mismatches and create scoring opportunities for himself rather than relying on movement of the offense, then he could really take a leap into superstardom.

As things stand, Markkanen has done everything he’s needed to do, not just for the Jazz, but for his own career, and the Jazz are eager to make sure that he is a part of the future.

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