"It Feels Amazing" | After A Breakout Season, Markkanen Wins NBA's Most Improved Player Award

Ryan Kostecka
Digital Content Writer

Although Lauri Markkanen may be half a world away during this offseason, his accomplishments during the last NBA season haven't been forgotten.

Announced on Monday night, Markkanen was named the NBA's Most Improved Player. He became the first player in Jazz history to win the award, defeating finalists Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Oklahoma City) and Jalen Brunson (New York).

"It feels amazing. ... It feels great," Markkanen said. "I didn't wake up at 2 a.m. for nothing. Obviously a huge privilege to be in this position. Just got to thank everybody back in Utah who made this possible, and my family."

To say Markkanen improved is to put it simply. 

His numbers across the board all improved, some more dramatically than others. He finished +10.8 in points, +2.9 in rebounds, +5.4% from the field, and +3.4% from three-point territory, all doing so in just 3.6 more minutes per game. 

"I think it's been my overall game coming together," Markkanen said. "Working on my overall game, working on where my spots are on the floor. … I've just been trying to bring everything together and just keep working on the overall package."

It's one thing for a player to improve his stats with more opportunity, but doing so at a greater efficiency is rare — and that's precisely what Markkanen did. 

As Utah's No. 1 option, he averaged career-highs in points (25.6), shot attempts (17.3), field goal percentage (49.9%), free throw percentage (87.5%), assists (1.9), and minutes (34.4). He also averaged 8.6 rebounds per game, 39.2% from three, and 58.6% effective field goal percentage, all the second-most in his career.

"Lauri's done such a good job of continuing to work on different ways he can impact the game offensively," head coach Will Hardy said of Markkanen. "Obviously, he's shown the ability to shoot the ball. … But the physicality he's been able to play with, to drive the ball and as a screener, has given him the opportunity to score in a variety of ways."

Part of what makes Lauri's season so special was how unexpected it was

Viewed as one of the key components in Utah's trade with Cleveland late last summer, Markkanen served as a role player throughout the first five years of his career. But then he broke out over the summer as one of the stars of EuroBasket 2022, leading Finland to its first quarterfinals appearance after averaging 23.0 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.

Even before that performance over the summer, Utah's front office believed there was star potential in his game if given the right opportunity — and EuroBasket breathed life into that notion.

"Confidence is everything in this league. … It makes everything so much easier when you believe in yourself, what you're doing," Markkanen said in an interview with SLAM Magazine. 

He was named to his first All-Star game and eventually chosen as a starter. He also became the first player in NBA history to have 200 threes and 100 dunks in a season, finishing with 200 made threes and 111 dunks. 

"Our team looks to Lauri," Hardy added. "He's an NBA All-Star for a reason, and he's had a consistency about not only his play but his approach all season. I don't know what the ceiling is on Lauri. … I don't think any of us do, but I'm pretty sure we haven't seen it yet."

For someone who entered the season with so many questions, Markkanen now leaves it with some offseason hardware — and the potential to add more. 

Of the 36 players who previously won the award, only eight have been named to an All-NBA team in the same season. Markkanen has a good chance to make it nine.