SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – It was a career-best season for Utah Jazz star Lauri Markkanen, and he has been rewarded by winning the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award Monday night.
Markkanen (64 first place votes, 430 total points) edged out Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (24 first place votes, 289 total points) and New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (4 first place votes, 91 total points) to win the award.
“It’s a good recognition of the work you’ve put in,” Markkanen said from Finland, where he is serving in the Finnish Army this summer. “But it’s just the beginning. I want to make the next jump and be able to lead this team to get into the playoffs and do something big with this group.”
Markkanen was traded to Utah as part of the deal that sent Donovan Mitchell to the Cleveland Cavaliers in September. The 7-foot forward, who had averaged under 15 points per game each of the last three seasons — the first two in Chicago, and then last year with Cleveland — then had what is by far the best season of his career, averaging 25.6 points per game on 49.9 percent shooting overall and 39.1 percent from 3-point range.
As a result, Markkanen was selected to his first All-Star team back in February, and is a strong candidate to nab one of the six All-NBA forward selections when those teams are announced later this postseason.
Markkanen is the first Jazz player in the 38-year history to win the Most Improved Player award.
The NBA will announce its Rookie of the Year award winner Tuesday night, with Jazz center Walker Kessler, Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero, and Thunder forward Jalen Williams having been named the finalists for the honor.