Suppose you asked a Utah Jazz fan their expectation of Lauri Markkanen before the season started. In that case, you’d be met with a blank face and an unsure question. They understand that Markkanen is a good basketball player, but he’s probably not at a caliber that can single-handedly win them games.
Ask that same Jazz fan about his thoughts on Lauri now that the Jazz are nearing the halfway point of the season. Their reactions may depend on whether they want Danny Ainge to draft Victor Wembanyama.
Markkanen is showing incredible progress that may surprise fans and OKBET players who aren’t keeping tabs on the Finn’s progress. However, those who have been fans of his since his days in Arizona know that his current form is precisely what he was supposed to be when the Chicago Bulls drafted him seventh overall in 2017.
Lauri Markkanen came into the league with a lot of hype. He had a lone productive season with the Arizona Wildcats, averaging 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds. He was highly touted for his scoring ability, shooting 49% on the field, 42% from deep, and 84% from the free-throw line.
His rookie year with the Bulls was solid. He averaged 15 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 1.2 assists in 68 starts. He followed it up with an even more impressive sophomore campaign, where his production spiked to 18.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 1.4 assists.
However, what was supposed to be an outstanding career was squandered by his decreased production in his last two seasons in the Windy City. He saw fewer touches as Jim Boylen tasked him to stand on the corner as a catch-and-shoot option.
His efficiency across the board sank, and his confidence took a nosedive. The first year of Boylen’s reign saw his shooting efficiency drop a bit: he was shooting 42% on the floor and 34% from three-point land. In his final year for the Bulls, he averaged career lows in points (13.6) and rebounds (5.3). He was eventually replaced in the starting lineup by Nikola Vucevic when the Bulls traded for him in the 2020/21 season.
Some may point to this decrease as the effect of Boylen’s terrible stint on the Bulls’ sideline. However, Markkanen took accountability for his on-court performances. While he now looks fondly to his time in the Windy City, it cannot be denied that his stellar play for the Jazz makes some Bulls fans quietly wonder.
What would the Bulls be like today if Boylen and GarPax didn’t stunt his development? Would they be making a deep playoff run? Would they have contended for the Larry O’Brien trophy?
Lauri Markkanen was sent to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a sign-and-trade deal. Few had any real clues about how Markkanen would play in the ‘Land, but everything turned out fine for him and the Cavaliers when they finally saw him play.
His numbers trended upwards in his first and only year for the upstart Cavs. His performance last season (14.8 PPG, 5.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists on 45%/36%/87% shooting splits) was a return to form for the Finnish big.
He was starting to get more touches with the Cavs and was enjoying playing team basketball with a team that saw value in his play compared to the Bulls. He was ready to settle in with the team, even going to buy a house in Cleveland.
However, even he understood that the league was a business. He didn’t blame the Cavs when they shipped him off to the Jazz to land a talented All-Star in Donovan Mitchell.
Markkanen had to play a bit of EuroBasket before starting the season with the Jazz. It allowed them to see what their new player could do and whether he’ll be a great piece to surround Victor Wembanyama with.
They were surely delighted with the Lauri Markkanen that showed up in Europe. He was the second-best scorer in EuroBasket with his 27.9 PPG, and his 8.1 RPG was ninth among all players. He was creating his own shots and was nearly unstoppable until Finland fell to Spain in the quarter-finals.
Jazz fans were cautiously optimistic ahead of their season opener against the Denver Nuggets and were surprised with a win. The wins kept coming all of a sudden, with Markkanen at the center of it all.
They finished the first ten games of the season with a 7-3 record. Lauri Markkanen averaged a near-double-double of 22 points and nine rebounds during that stretch.
People suddenly began talking if the Jazz would make a playoff push and whether Markkanen’s performances were for real. While Utah cooled down, it seems like Lauri is far from done. He’s averaging 22.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.1 assists while playing almost 34 minutes per game.
One of the biggest secrets to the Jazz’s success was Willy Hardy’s play scheme. The team is focused on quick and smooth ball movement. Lauri’s graceful movements on the court and his three-level scoring ability synergize well with Hardy’s offense. Even his defense got a boost under Hardy.
Another reason for his success can be pointed to his team. There aren’t any real superstar-caliber players on the team. Unlike in Chicago and Cleveland, no one in the Jazz roster could take away touches from him.
Finally, Lauri Markkanen showed Danny Ainge that he’s just that good of a player. Some Jazz fans even get Gordon Hayward flashbacks when they look at his play. The stats prove them correct.
Depending on who you ask, Lauri Markkanen is a solid #1 or #2 option for the Jazz. He’s nowhere near the finished product, and aspects like his dribbling and playmaking need some work.
However, he’s proven himself to Danny Ainge and the Utah crowd that his talent is for real. Whether they get Wembanyama or not, they have a solid building block for the future in Markkanen.
It’s been a great tale for Lauri, but he’ll be the first to tell you that he’s far from finished.
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