In early September, the Cleveland Cavaliers paid a king’s ransom to acquire Donovan Mitchell in a blockbuster trade with the Utah Jazz. Things worked out fairly well for Cleveland in 2022-23, earning a top-four seed in the East, but the Jazz received a strong package in return that included Lauri Markkanen. When the deal came together, Markkanen was seen as an intriguing player but, at the same time, he was not viewed as a jewel or even as the centerpiece of a sprawling transaction. Following a breakout campaign this season, though, Markkanen is now the winner of the NBA’s 2022-23 Most Improved Player of the Year award.
— NBA (@NBA) April 24, 2023
Markkanen was the centerpiece of a Jazz team that surprised many in the NBA world on the way to 37 victories, and he outlasted New York’s Jalen Brunson and Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to win the award with 69 first place votes.
In his three previous campaigns combined, Markkanen averaged 14.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per game and converted only 44.8 percent of his field goal attempts. In 2022-23, the 25-year-old forward erupted for 25.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game while shooting 49.9 percent from the field, 39.1 percent from three-point range, and 87.5 percent on a career-best 6.0 free throw attempts per contest.
Beyond his individual contributions and improved efficiency, Markkanen was also key to Utah’s success. The Jazz out-scored opponents by 3.8 points per 100 possessions with Markkanen on the floor, and that dipped to a -6.5 net rating when he was off the court this season. The next step for Markkanen will be attempting to follow up this All-Star season with a repeat performance, but he was the betting favorite for the award for a large portion of the season and the voters agreed with that notion.