Fans of the Utah Jazz were likely sad when the team opted to trade away 4/5 of their 2021-22 starting lineup in the offseason. But, the team brought in a whole lot of new players, one of which was Lauri Markkanen from the Cleveland Cavaliers. They shipped out superstar Donovan Mitchell and brought back Collin Sexton, rookie Ochai Agbaji, three first-round picks, and the aforementioned Markkanen.
Lauri has earned his place among the NBA’s elite after a long journey that shows his hard work and dedication to the game. After having been picked by the Bulls in the 2017 NBA Draft, Markkanen was an All-Star in 2021. The #23 pick has truly cemented himself as one of the best NBA picks of the past few years. Let’s take a look at Markkanen’s journey to his All-Star appearance.
A Force at Arizona
Lauri Markkanen was a darn good college basketball player. He finished his lone year playing for the Wildcats with averages of 15 points and seven rebounds. He had very impressive shooting splits of 49/43/85. For a big guy, he showed an extremely smooth touch from both the inside and beyond the arc too. There was not much he wasn’t capable of doing there.
In the Pac-12 semifinal against UCLA, he had 29 points and six rebounds. He couldn’t miss, and he proved that he was capable of rising to the occasion when the pressure got higher. In his first March Madness contest, Lauri had 20 points and six rebounds in a victory over North Dakota. And in round two against St. Mary’s, he had 16 points, 11 rebounds, and a pair of blocks.
He had nine and eight in his finale, shooting just 3-9. But he did enough after declaring to get drafted in the top 10. He was taken #7 by the Timberwolves and quickly traded to the Bulls. Markkanen’s journey was only just beginning. Great days ahead for him.
A Late Bloomer
Markkanen’s first season for the rebuilding Chicago Bulls was an interesting one. The team obviously wasn’t all that great, so he got a lot of playing time. He started in all 68 games he appeared in, and has identical numbers to that of his lone campaign for the Wildcats. To be able to perform at that level in the pros showed he belonged.
During his second campaign, he averaged 19 points and nine rebounds. His field-goal attempts and minutes increased. And it looked like he was set to take off and become a real star. But his scoring and rebounding numbers decreased over the next two seasons. And by the end of his fourth campaign, he was coming off the bench. That ended with a change of scenery and an offseason move to Cleveland.
For the first time in his career, Lauri was going to be playing small forward. Playing next to two young bigs, he was going to be in a different position. He averaged 15 points and about six rebounds for the season. He had good games and bad but proved to fit well with the team. They sent him to Utah after the year in the Donovan Mitchell deal, and he was going to continue to play the SF spot. Boy, oh boy.
The Best Ball of His Career
Markkanen, from his very first game in Utah, has absolutely balled out. All he needed was the chance to be a #1 option and playing the SF spot. He has averaged 25 points and nine rebounds a night. He’s shooting 51% from the floor, 42% on seven threes per game, and almost 88% at the line. He’s throwing down poster dunks every night and hitting shots over every player.
There isn’t anything he has proven incapable of doing, and he has the team in a position to qualify for the play-in. On a team with no direction entering the year, and a future in the air, he has turned into a superstar. Playing in a situation with no pressure to succeed for the first time, his numbers have certainly inflated for the better.
The 2023 NBA All-Star Game is going to be played in Utah, and he’s going to be repping the team not only in that but the Three-Point Shootout. Isn’t it something that in his first year on the west coast, he’s splashing the way he is?
He’s a superstar, and he had to work to get to where he is. Effort pays.