SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – After the best season of his career, is Jazz All-Star forward Lauri Markkanen headed to some island to relax? Not quite. He’ll report for mandatory military service for his home country of Finland next week.
“It’s something we have to do before we’re 30,” Markkanen said. “So I figured if we’re not going to be playing in the postseason this year, then it’s a good time to do it now instead of just postponing it and then eventually having to do it.”
While he may not win any medals on the battlefield, there are a couple of NBA awards he could take home. Markkanen could be named to an All-NBA team or be named the NBA’s Most Improved Player. Which does he want more?
“They’re both big,” said Markkanen, who earned his first All-Star Game selection. “I took a lot of pride in the work that I put in. I think the Most Improved award would be pretty cool in the regard that I have put in a lot of work and just seeing it pay off.”
Last season in Cleveland, Markkanen averaged 14.8 points per game for the Cavaliers. This year as Utah’s #1 option, he bumped he scoring up to 25.6 points, while shooting 49.9 percent from the field.
This was the first year Markkanen was a team’s go-to scorer, and he’s going to make more adjustments to handle that role this off-season.
“This year having the ball in my hands more, I think it was a good challenge to see different coverages from teams,” Markkanen said. “I think I got a lot better throughout the year, but it also showed me how much better I can get.”
While Markkanen was disappointed to miss the playoffs, he liked the development of the younger players on this Jazz team. He obviously has no idea who will be back next season, but he loved the way the team competed every night.
“We were able to compete every game this year,” he said. “But growing into being able to win close games and doing it consistently. Winning is a skill in my opinion, and I think we have to get better at that.”