Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen’s three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 131-114 win over the Houston Rockets.
1. Lauri Markkanen scores almost 50 points
Lauri Markkanen scored 49 points on Thursday night, the most by a jazz player in a regular season since Karl Malone was in his prime in 1990.
No, Donovan Mitchell never scored 49 points in the regular season, though he did in the playoffs. Neither Deron Williams nor Gordon Hayward were. Heck, even Malone himself hasn’t scored that many points in the last 13 years of his career.
It’s a different NBA this season, for sure. More players than ever before are aiming for absurd numbers. We’ve seen Luka Doncic record his 60 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists. Since Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point performance, we’ve seen Mitchell add his 71 points and his 11 assists, contributing more points to the team’s total than anyone else. Many high numbers are occurring.
And for me, the fun part about Markkanen’s performance was that nothing seemed to have changed. Not that it was an anomalous performance from the deep. He shot 6-15 with his 3 points off his line. He was a 40% chance. He can shoot it pretty consistently. Maybe he can’t hit every free throw all the time, but he’s not far off.
I think it’s worth taking a step back and understanding what this means for jazz. Markkanen has proven that the Jazz already have more All-Stars than they thought. He has a contract for two more seasons. Even if his contract ends, I think he will be very happy to stay with the Jazz. He loves it here, raising a young family, and appreciates that aspect of his life in Salt Lake City. It’s legally viable for Markkanen to be here for the long term.
Beyond that, his playstyle is extremely flexible. Tonight is a good example. 0 of his 49 points tonight came as an isolated, post-up, or pick-and-roll ballhandler. None of this is Markkanen calling his number. It’s all due to the offensive flow — catching spot-ups, catching the ball as a screener, attacking in transition, or getting an offensive rebound.
That means you can put any number of stars around him and basically he should be able to keep doing this. Obviously there’s a fine line there — we don’t want to castrate him like the Bulls did. However, if he can maintain this mentality, Markkanen could be a very flexible element in team building.
It’s been a great career-changing season for Markkanen so far. In all honesty, this season is also the season that will change the trajectory of the Jazz franchise.
2. Expanding Markkanen’s score
Ok, but let’s get to the heart of the matter. How successful are your players?
I thought it was also worth noting that almost all of his shots tonight were from the left or center of the floor – Markkanen looks most comfortable there.
Markkanen could be either a roller or a screener, so that high pick-and-roll with Mike Conley is only causing the team to fit. Like here, the Rockets try to protect him with the little guy, allowing Markkanen to roll to the rim and finish.
But when trying to protect him with Big, the Jazz were able to execute the same play, and Markkanen naturally popped outside, bingo, and shot from there as well.
The combination of the two doesn’t work either.
In relation to the clip above, his free throw boost is worth noting. Markkanen has made 10 or more free throws so far this season he has made only two. He’s now taken 12, 15 and 13 in his last three games. His high releases and quick shots are really causing problems for short defenders looking to defend him — the Jazz have lost their last five games so far, but free throws fall behind his line. Markkanen’s ability to reach put them back in his three games. those contests.
For other teams it’s just an HR nightmare. Clearly, the Rockets are a poor defensive team, but there are only a handful of players in the league for whom Markkanen doesn’t have a clear physical advantage in some way. (Giannis? AD?) And since I’ve been able to figure out how to play certain counters against him, he’s often taken advantage.
3. 2021 NBA Draft Class
I thought it was John Hollinger from The Athletic today was a great story On some of the struggles our sophomore class is having this year.
(By the way, I love Hollinger. His writing had a huge impact on me growing up. Especially reading his Pro Basketball Prospectus book. I only met him once. The Jazz front office is rather concerned, but I promise and assure you that he was not a source of information during his tenure as assistant GM of the Grizzlies. my report The Jazz tried to trade Ricky Rubio to the Grizzlies for Mike Conley at the 2019 trade deadline.
Especially after having some eye-popping rookie seasons, many of last year’s draft class are really struggling in their second year, and No. 1 Cade Cunningham doesn’t look special. Rookie of the Year Scotty His Barnes may have taken a step back because the defense no longer respects his 3-point shot on him. Evan Mobley is part of a really good team, but he hasn’t made the leap. Davion Mitchell looks like his guard only points on defense. Jalen Suggs has been rough throughout his NBA career. Chris Duarte, oddly enough, completely forgot how to make baskets. James Bouknight looked like a complete bust from the moment he stepped onto the court with the NBA team’s logo nearby.
The Rockets starter and two premier players are also in their sophomore year. Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun. Green is one of the least efficient scorers in the league. Russell in 2023 He’s not as bad as Westbrook, but close, but he’s getting about as many turnovers as assists. A classic player like Collin Sexton who needs to calm down a bit and understand what the defense is doing. Sengun is slightly better. He’s an efficient inside attacking player, but his defensive concerns in the draft have proven valid.
Honestly, we have something in common here. This is another reminder that player growth is not linear. Markkanen took his 6th leap of the season at the age of 25. Nearly everyone in the 2021 draft class has yet to make the leap, at least in their second year.
These players’ predictions have error bars. Giving as many players as possible the opportunity for good development is a logical goal given the scope of our knowledge.
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