The Finnisher has polished off one of the better turnarounds in recent NBA history.
Lauri Markkanen was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player for the 2022-23 regular season Monday night.
Markkanen, who earned his first NBA All-Star bid this season with the Utah Jazz, received 69 of the 100 first-place votes to beat out New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for the award.
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With 430 points, Markkanen finished well ahead of second-place Gilgeous-Alexander, who received 24 first-place votes and 289 points. Brunson came in third with four first-place votes and 91 points.
Brooklyn Nets forward Mikal Bridges, Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton and New Orleans Pelicans forward Trey Murphy III each received one first-place vote.
The 25-year-old Finland native was nothing short of stellar in his first year in Salt Lake City, averaging a career-high 25.6 points on 49.9% shooting across a personal best 34.4 minutes. He started in February’s NBA All-Star Game in front of Utah’s fans at Vivint Arena after injuries kept Steph Curry and Zion Williamson from participating.
Markkanen was traded to the Jazz prior to the season in exchange for Donovan Mitchell. The Cleveland Cavaliers dealt the former No. 7 overall pick, alongside Ochai Agbaji, Collin Sexton and three first-round picks.
While the Jazz missed the 2023 NBA playoffs, the team did eclipse preseason expectations to finish with a 37-45 overall record – five games out of qualifying for this year’s play-in tournament.
Markkanen, a six-time Finnish Player of the Year, was a disappointment in his first four NBA seasons with the Chicago Bulls. He was traded to Cleveland in August 2021, and averaged 14.8 points and 5.7 rebounds in his only season as a Cavalier.
While Brunson and Gilgeous-Alexander made strong cases for the award, NBA voters clearly could not resist giving it to Markkanen – a player who averaged almost 11 points more per game year to year.