Finland national team helped Markkanen flip the switch
SALT LAKE CITY (USA) - Finland's Lauri Markkanen has been so good this season with the Utah Jazz that the spectacular has become the norm.
The Susijengi star's combination of size, skill and talent has turned the flying Finn into a Marvel superhero of sorts, a basketball player that can't be guarded!
Croatia couldn't contain him when they took on Finland in the Round of 16 at FIBA EuroBasket 2022. He had 43 points in that Finnish win and ended up averaging 27.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.6 steals.
He's been just as effective in the NBA.
In a win over Detroit four days before Christmas, Markkanen buried a career-high nine three-pointers. He is shooting 41.6 percent (119 for 286) from deep on the season.
Markkanen is averaging 24.5 points per game and had some truly breathtaking performances along the way, like his 49-point masterclass in a 131-114 victory at Houston on January 6.
What the fans probably enjoy the most about "The Finnisher" is his dunking.
Markkanen has turned the NBA into his own personal slam dunk contest. Every jaw-dropping rim rocker is followed soon after by an even better one.
oh. my. Lauri.— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) January 8, 2023
🌟 https://t.co/X4WJXzIrma#TakeNote | @MarkkanenLauri pic.twitter.com/QPfsiVO3Sh
Markkanen flipped a switch last summer with Finland at the FIBA EuroBasket. He says that being given a lot of freedom on the court by national team coach Lassi Tuovi allowed him to take off.
"It gives a ton (of confidence)," he said to The Old Man & the Three podcast. "It's the opportunity you get to hoop and there's really no restrictions. I'm bringing the ball up, handling pick and roll, trying to facilitate for other guys and stuff like that.
"Maybe I hadn't been doing that much in the NBA, so just showing that to other people and myself that I'm able to do that. Just to do it. I think this year's EuroBasket was really high-level basketball. A lot of NBA guys went back. Being able to do it over there makes it easier to carry it over here."
"WHEN I FIRST GOT TO UTAH, IT WAS LIKE, 'WHAT YOU DID AT THE EUROBASKET, I WANT THAT SAME VERSION HERE'"
He impressed at the EuroBasket despite learning on the eve of the event that he'd been traded by the Cleveland Cavaliers to Utah. Markkanen, his wife and two young children, had been happy in Cleveland.
"The trade happened the night before our first game at the EuroBasket, so I was locked in for the tournament and then the trade happened all of a sudden," Markkanen said.
"I was a little emotional. We thought we'd found a home in Cleveland so it was a little tough."
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The trade was an unwanted distraction. Markkanen was trying to get ready for Finland's first game in Prague against Israel. Not long after the trade, Utah coach Will Hardy tried to contact his new player.
"Some random American number FaceTimes me, and I wasn't ready to pick up the phone," Markkanen said. "So I didn't pick up his (Hardy's) first call. But I called him right after. It was just a brief introduction after that, but he let me focus on the international play."
Markkanen did speak to Hardy at length after he arrived in Utah and quickly understood that Finland's EuroBasket campaign had not gone unnoticed.
"When I first got to Utah, it was like, 'What you did at the EuroBasket, I want that same version here," Markkanen said Hardy told him.
"So I think that's what made it easier for me."
Markkanen had a big summer. Before the EuroBasket, he also played in the European Qualifiers for FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 and helped his country book its ticket for the event that will be played in Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines.
Markkanen has definitely enjoyed his start in Utah, the third NBA team he's suited up for. He has become a much more complete player since his days with the Chicago Bulls, the club that acquired him in a draft night trade with Minnesota in 2017.
He has grown in each of his seasons. Adversity has been tough but also good.
"I think it changed a little bit with the year I got (to be) small forward in Cleveland," he said. "It kind of helped me play on the perimeter a little bit."
The past several months have been very good.
"The EuroBasket, getting that confidence up," he said. "It's a little bit of everything. We (Utah) have a great coaching staff, great style of play."
Markkanen says there has been a lot of support that has helped.
"I'm always going to give credit to my teammates," he said. "It's not like I'm doing everything off the dribble.
"They're finding me off the dribble. I'm getting to the rim to get some easy ones. It helps shooting from the outside as well. I think I've gotten better as a player than I was at Chicago, for example. I've gotten better, but I think I'm at the right place at the right time, too."
Utah fans are hoping Markkanen is voted to the NBA All-Star Game.
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Challenges, like when Markkanen had to slot in at small forward and guard smaller players like Chris Paul, help players if they approach them with the right attitude.
"There were matchups that I never thought I'd have but you take it as a challenge, try to fight through those days," he said.
There are a lot more games to play for Utah as they take aim at a spot in the Western Conference playoffs. After that, Markkanen will turn his attention back to Finland and his first World Cup.