Lauri Markkanen’s night against the Suns ends Utah Jazz’s losing streak

Shortly after the Utah Jazz defeated the Phoenix Suns Friday night, on the shoulders of a 38-point career night by Lauri Markkanen, his teammate officially launched the public campaign for Markkanen to become an NBA All-Star.

Jarred Vanderbilt didn’t mince his words and didn’t try to beat around the bush.

“Lauri Markkanen is an all star,” he wrote on Twitter. “That’s it.”

Markkanen currently ranks seventh in points per game (22.2) among frontcourt players in the Western Conference and second in that group in field goal percentage (54.4%). The only player in the NBA with as many points per game and a higher percentage of effective field goals as Markkanen (61.1%) is Stephen Curry (65.2%).

The Jazz needed every fight from Mike Conley on Friday night, they needed all 27 points from Malik Beasley off the bench, they needed every ounce of defense from Vanderbilt to take the 134-133 win over Phoenix and still the team knew that Markkanen was the star of the show.

Before we get to how effective Markkanen was on offense, it’s important to note how important he was on defense. The box score shows just one block for the 7-footer, but he also had a number of timely deviations and his ability to switch to smaller players and stay with them continues to improve and impress from game to game.

“He was just as impressive as an athlete because he’s never been with him before as he was with a basketball player,” said Jazz head coach Will Hardy. “I don’t know what the ceiling on Lauri is. I don’t think any of us do, but I’m pretty sure we haven’t seen it yet.”

Offensively, Markkanen was adept at dividing the Suns defense. His awareness of screens and seams and timing off the ball is one of those things that stands out as sensational.

Let’s not forget that Markkanen is 7ft tall and is capable of slicing backdoors and sneaking around the court as if he were a 6ft 1 Sentinel. Below are some of the clips of his off-ball movement, including his timing and use of screens as a shooter.

“He causes a lot of problems with his ability to read the game off the ball,” Conley said. “We’ve had more actions where he’s edged out and got layups and dunks than we’ve probably had in a long time. He’s a really smart player and with his size and height he can pass a lot of people and still play for other players on the weak side.

None of this is a coincidence either. Markkanen has worked to become a better editor and become more nimble off the ball, and Hardy has put him in a system that rewards that work.

“It probably doesn’t match the packaging that it comes in,” Hardy said. “I appreciate the way you look at him and you wouldn’t assume he’s so mobile and agile. His footwork isn’t just like speed in a straight line. It’s his footwork in tight spaces and his ability to change direction.”

Markkanen has had good seasons in the past. He’s had 35-point nights with Chicago and one 31-point game with Cleveland, but it’s not all about the points. His efficiency, dedication and confidence are at an all-time high with this jazz team. But more importantly, there’s nobody in jazz who believes we’ve seen the best of Markkanen, including Markkanen himself.

“I’m definitely not satisfied,” he said. “There are many things I can do better.”

Markkanen left the arena with the cue ball, noting that he hopes this won’t be the last cue ball he gets. When asked what he would do with it, he said he would take it home, but his kids would probably play with it.


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