Basketball

Lauri Markkanen: The NBA’s most unlikely star

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Lauri Markkanen high-fives teammate Talen Horton-Tucker during his career-high 49-point night vs the Houston Rockets
Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Lauri Markkanen wasn’t even considered the centerpiece of the summer’s Donovan Mitchell trade, but now he’s been called untouchable for the Utah Jazz. Just 42 games into the 2022-23 NBA season, nobody would expect the Jazz to be the 9th seed. Nobody expected the all-star host Salt Lake City to have a hometown hero to cheer for.

Lauri Markkanen has seemingly turned into a star overnight in his sixth season (and as an owner of an autographed #24 Bulls jersey, I couldn’t be happier).

Many Bulls fans thought the signs were there for Markkanen to be a star, although it was a bad breakup in Chicago. Under Jim Boylen, Markkanen mostly played off-ball as a spot-up shooter and was less-than-desired as a defender. A pitstop in Cleveland saw the seven-footer shift to playing small forward and expand his game to being more of a shot creator.

As a Bull, he averaged 15.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per game on just 44% from the field and 36.6% from three. But despite his perceived mediocrity, Markkanen still showed star potential.

NBA YouTuber and journalist Kenny Beecham talked about Markkanen’s month of February 2019 as his first sign of becoming a star. That month, Markkanen averaged 26 points, 12.2 rebounds, and 2.4 assists for the Bulls.

Of course, that was just a ten-game sample size and Markkanen fell back down to earth shortly after.

But this year, he’s back to that form and he hasn’t taken his foot off the gas. He’s averaging 24.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game on career-high efficiency at 51.9% from the field and 41.3% from three.

Markkanen is a favorite to become an all-star for the first time this season and is a frontrunner for the Most Improved Player award.

But how impressive has he really been? And is this just because there are no other scoring options in Utah?

Well, Markkanen is averaging just 0.1 points per game less than reigning MVP Nikola Jokic. He has the 12th-highest player efficiency rating in the league, higher than Ja Morant, Trae Young, and former Jazz star Donovan Mitchell.

And he also is eighth in the league in win shares, higher than Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Stephen Curry.

With a set future in Utah, Lauri Markkanen seems primed for continued success as one of the league’s new stars.

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