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Revisiting the Markkanen-Hayward comparison

Lauri Markkanen has demonstrated All-Star level play this season which has prompted comparisons to Gordon Hayward’s last season in Utah

Utah Jazz v Milwaukee Bucks
Lauri Markkanen drives on the Giannis-less Milwaukee Bucks

Lauri Markkanen is putting together one heckuva season. This after a stellar EuroBasket campaign, the 7 foot Finn has taken a leap that’s putting him in the thick of All-Star and Most Improved Player talks.

In the early season, comments often surfaced comparing Lauri to the 2016-17 campaign of former Jazz man Gordon Hayward.

Early on, the comparison seemed appropriate enough, albeit early. Now, through 32 games (29 of which Lauri suited up) or nearly 40% of the season, the similarities and differences spark even more interesting discussion.

Markkanen definitely plays more like a big than a wing. He’s able to act as a secondary rim protector, crash the glass hard, and finish in the short midrange extremely well.

Hayward, on the other hand, was a pure wing, comfortable scoring and getting to the foul line just as he was facilitating.

You can see in some of the highlight reels that Markkanen often acts more as the screener than ball handler. The opposite was true for Hayward who operated as a distributor off handoffs and screens.

Both were very intentional and composed offensively, quick to trigger from 3 or take the defender off the dribble. Both had really scalable approaches to efficiency. We can see a lot of similar tendencies in the midrange and pulling from 3 behind a screen.

Let’s take a look at the stats:

Hayward and Markkanen comparison
Statistical comparison between Gordon Hayward’s last season in Utah and Lauri Markkanen’s year thus far
Stats thanks to, Basketball Reference, and FiveThirtyEight | Visual thanks to Adam Bushman, SLC Dunk

The stats bear out the comparison, largely. Markkanen is putting up about 90% of the traditional box score volume Hayward posted in his final Jazz season.

Markkanen’s efficiency is incredible but is most easily explained by the amount of his field goals that come unassisted. Hayward shouldered a lot of responsibility for creating for himself (nearly half his shots came of his own accord) while Markkanen benefits a lot from finishing plays created by others.

The impact on the game, as measured by FiveThirtyEight’s advanced stat RAPTOR, is very comparable. They are extremely valuable to their respective teams, mostly on offense, but above average on defense.

How each go about scoring is pretty interesting. We already mentioned Markkanen tends to finish plays while Hayward was more comfortable creating on his own.

Markkanen, like a big, takes more shots right at the rim (30% freq) compared to Hayward (25%) and at a better efficiency (70% to 67%). Lauri is also playing above the rim, demonstrating his length and athleticism with nearly twice the frequency of dunk attempts.

Markkanen as a 3P shooter is seeing more volume from the corners than Hayward ever did. Gordon also saw defenders playing tight defense on the 3P line nearly twice as often.

Golden State Warriors v Utah Jazz - Game Four
Gordon Hayward spots Stephen Curry in the 2016-17 Playoffs
Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

On defense, Lauri has been contesting 14.3 shots per 36 minutes while Gordon contested 8.3. They each held opponents to ~3% below their season averages. Markkanen is very active defensively at the rim and in the short midrange.

The passing and playmaking advantage cedes to Hayward. Pick and rolls, handoffs as the handler; it’s not even close. Hayward operated and passed out of them far more often. Even on drives, Markkanen passes out 24% of the time while Hayward 34%.

Utah Jazz v Milwaukee Bucks
Lauri Markkanen contests a jump shot from Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

One of the components fans wanted from Gordon late in games was more assertiveness and will. He wasn’t bad in the clutch, per se but rarely took over games and welcomed the challenge. His modest 27% usage didn’t compare to the guys he was routinely compared: Paul George’s 40%, Jimmy Butler 40%,

Markkanen has a similar issue. A 24% usage in the clutch isn’t consistent with a #1 option. It’s frankly a byproduct of how dependent he is on assisted FGs. We’ve already seen how he struggles to create for himself and even get the ball late in games. That’s his next development step if he’s looking to ascend to the next echelon.

All in all, the Markkanen-Hayward comparison is pretty appropriate as far as production, impact, and tendencies. Hayward wasn’t a #1, rather a pretty elite #2 option for a great team. That’s what the 2016-17 Jazz lacked and it showed in the biggest moments.

Markkanen is already a solid #2 but could ascend to elite status with targeted development focus in the offseason. It’s unlikely, however, he ascends to that upper echelon. There’s a reason it’s only 15-20 deep.

Regardless, the Jazz received a solid #2 with further development potential in addition to 3 unprotected picks, 2 pick swaps, and Collin Sexton in the Donovan Mitchell deal. In hindsight, you cannot do any better than that.

With Lauri in the chamber, perhaps the Jazz have another shot at what they missed out on when Gordon bolted for the Boston Celtics after drafting Donovan. Pairing a young All-Star with an up-and-coming star.