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Jazz breakout star Lauri Markkanen aims to elevate own game, not win Most Improved Player

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Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen is having the best season of his NBA career with the Western Conference team, and the betting favorite to win Most Improved Player of the Year cares more about elevating his own game than receiving said individual award.

“That’s some extra motivation, but I’m not really thinking about it,” Markkanen told ESPN’s Nick Friedell about potentially winning MIP. “I talked about the responsibility, and I’m enjoying the challenge, and if those individual goals happen, if we keep winning games and I keep doing my thing.”

According to a few NBA betting sites, the Jazz possess 27th-ranked odds to win the championship. They rank 11th in the West. Sportsbooks are still giving Utah a chance to at least qualify for the play-in tournament.

“I go every single day to keep working, and I hope that happens, but we’ll see,” added the sixth-year wing. “Just try to get these wins together and keep going from there, but obviously it would be a cool trophy to have at home, but that’s not the main goal right now.”

More importantly, Markkanen is grateful that the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers were interested in helping him develop his game. As it turns out, the Jazz have excelled at utilizing Markkanen’s strengths. “You can always look back,” he said. “I think that was the goal for everybody to stay with one team your whole career, but that doesn’t really happen too often anymore.”

Utah Jazz rising star Lauri Markkanen cares more about refining his own game at the NBA level than winning Most Improved Player of the Year

“Just the way things went, I might not have been the same player I am today. I was playing the 4 position [in Chicago]. I went to Cleveland; I played the 3. Obviously, the team worked on my body, so I was able to play the 3. Now we play with a big lineup, so I think things clicked.”

In September, the Cavaliers traded Markkanen, Ochai Agbaji, Collin Sexton, and five first-round draft picks (2025-29) to the Jazz for Donovan Mitchell. While fans would say that Utah won the trade, the Cavs are still in great shape with the four-time All-Star. Cleveland is 42-26 and ranks fourth in the East.

Through 60 starts this season, Lauri Markkanen is averaging career highs of 25.4 points, 1.8 assists, and 34.4 minutes per game. In addition to grabbing 8.5 rebounds per contest, the Most Improved Player favorite is shooting career bests of 51.2% from the field and 40.6% outside the arc.

On Jan. 5, in Utah’s 131-114 win over the Houston Rockets, the Arizona product scored a career-high 49 points in 37 minutes of action. Along with amassing eight boards, one assist, and one block, Markkanen shot 15-of-27 (55.6%) from the floor and drained six 3-pointers. If he can stay healthy, the Jazz could very well qualify for the play-in tournament.

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James is a Basketball Insiders contributor. He earned his bachelor's degree in English and Creative Writing at Southern New Hampshire University. James enjoys watching sports and helping gamblers win money.

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