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Lauri’s next step is self-creation volume

Lauri Markkanen has vaulted his play this year to near the top 5% of the league. What’s keeping him from a true #1 option and all the accolades associated is creating for himself on volume.

Phoenix Suns v Utah Jazz
Lauri Markkanen hit one of the more impressive, self-generated shots over Devin Booker in Utah’s big win over Phoenix.
Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

The Utah Jazz are the talk of the league. Duck into the past 2-3 episodes of most every national podcast and you’ll find pleasantly surprised hosts and guests praising the franchise.

Everyone involved shares in the success of the season but Lauri Markkanen’s ascension is one of the primary reasons Utah has hit these heights.

With season averages of 22.3 pts, 8.4 rbs, 2.3 ast, and 2.0 tovs with 7.6% True Shooting above league average, he’s becoming a serious contender for the Most Improved Player (MIP) award.

His career high of 38 points in last weekend’s home win over the Phoenix Suns perfectly distills the new heights he’s reached in his 6th season.

At 12-6 with a handful of metrics validating Utah’s start, questions now surround just how far the team can go. The answer is honestly as far as Markkanen can take them.

The tricky side to all of this is how Lauri has gotten to this level: he’s done it within the flow of the offense. Markkanen’s cuts, catch & shoot 3’s, and free throw trips have come organically and on terrific efficiency.

This is the ideal approach in the regular season and against your average opponent where preparation is minimal. However, when facing the best the league has to offer or when you find yourself in a playoff series, you need players who can self-create.

Utah Jazz v Portland Trail Blazers
Lauri Markkanen preps for the Jazz matchup against the Trail Blazers Saturday night.
Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

This season, Lauri Markkanen is generating just 30.2% of his FGs unassisted (ranked 115 of 155 players with a usage rate of 20%+).

Jerami Grant, Christian Wood, De’Andre Hunter, and Kristaps Porzingis all find themselves with a similar ranking. None of the above we’d describe as #1 options.

If we look at common play types associated with getting your own shots, we’ll see that Lauri lacks the volume of self-creation requisite of an offensive engine:

  • On isolation plays: 82 of 87 qualified players with a 20%+ usage (8th in efficiency)
  • On post up plays: 31 of 46 qualified players with a 20%+ usage (20th in efficiency)
  • On PnR plays as ball handler: 94 of 97 qualified players with a 20%+ usage (70th in efficiency)

The good news is Markkanen generally scores very efficiently and makes good decisions. These are good signs that Markkanen can handle more over time.

He’s also made tremendous leaps in self-creation from just last year:

  • 30.2% of FGs unassisted is up from 18.2% last year
  • 4.7% isolation frequency is up from 1.8% last year
  • He didn’t operate enough PnRs as the ball handler to qualify last year

I compiled various shot and pass highlights from this year that developed out of isolation or post-up opportunities (below):

This is the next step for Lauri: creating his own looks. It will open up his own potential and aid the offense. He’ll subsequently learn to make better passes as teams send help, develop counters to schemes, and identify new ways to get to the line.

Lauri is becoming a top 30ish player. What will catapult him to the true upper echelon of perennial All-Stardom and #1 offensive option is self-creation on volume.