SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – As the Utah Jazz prepare to begin training camp in Hawaii on Tuesday, two 26-year-old six-year NBA veterans are expected to carry the bulk of the scoring punch on this year’s team.
Lauri Markkanen earned his first All-Star honor last season, while John Collins is looking for a fresh start in Utah.
Markkanen spent much of the summer fulfilling required military service in his home country of Finland. What was the biggest shock during his service?
“Believe it or not, even though I’m from Finland, I’m not that happy in the cold,” Markkanen said at Utah Jazz Media Day Monday. “Crawling out of my tent and seeing snow during the first week of May, that was a pretty freezing moment.”
But Markkanen did learn a lot of leadership skills during his time with the military, something he wants to work on with the Jazz.
“It was a good experience for me to have as a leader,” he said. “Showing up and leading by example, that’s always been me. I haven’t been that vocal, so I think that is going to be in the message of really holding each other accountable.”
The NBA’s Most Improved Player increased his scoring average by almost 11 points (25.6) and nearly three rebounds (8.6) last season. Markannen’s goal this year to to keep improving.
“Just keep getting better,” Markkanen said. “I think it was a good experience to have last year, but I’m really trying to improve and have a better year. That’s the motivation for me.”
As good as he’s been throughout his career with Chicago, Cleveland and Utah, Markkanen has never been to the NBA playoffs. That is a drought he desperately wants to end this season.
“I still haven’t made the playoffs, so that’s really one thing that I’m looking forward to,” Markkanen said. “Getting on that stage and really experience that.”
Markkanen knows opposing defenses will continue to focus on him, forcing him to make adjustments to his game and how he attacks.
“Seeing the way they play me and learn the different footwork to create separation,” Markkanen said. “It’s a work in progress.”
Markknen and new Jazz forward John Collins came into the NBA at the same time six years ago. Collins, the son of a military father, was actually born at Hill Air Force Base in Layton, and his happy to be back in his home state.
“It’s very cool to me to be back here the way I am,” Collins said. “I always dreamed of being an NBA player, being born here and now being able to in a way come back home and play for the Jazz, it’s special.”
Collins says his transition to the Jazz has gone as smooth as possible, and he’s been impressed with the entire organization.
“It’s refreshing,” he said. “In some ways I feel like a rookie again. I’m getting to meet new staff, new teammates, and just a new environment. The one thing that has surprised me is the lack of egos in here. It’s refreshing to have a group of guys that truly emphasize playing team basketball.”
Collins had spent his entire NBA career with the Atlanta Hawks. In his second and third years, Collins averaged around 20 points per game, but has since seen his role diminished. Now he fees like he has a fresh start, and believes he can achieve those types of numbers again.
“You’re damn right I can,” said Collins, who shot a career-low 29.2 percent from three-point range, while averaging 13.1 points per game last season, his lowest point total since his rookie season. “It’s just a matter of having the space and opportunity to play. I went back into the lab, worked on my game, and will try to do my best to be as effective as I can.”
The Jazz have other players who can have big scoring nights, like Jordan Clarkson, Ochai Agbaji and Collin Sexton. But Collins is especially looking forward to playing with two seven-footers in Markkanen and Walker Kessler.
“Playing with some really good bigs and some really skilled bigs,” Collins said. “I haven’t up until this point in my career, played with bigs that can do what they do. With Walker being so tall, skilled and being an elite shot-blocker. And Lauri, we’ve seen what he’s done, a proven All-Star. So, I’m really excited to play with those two guys.”