The Chicago Bulls made a big run late to beat the Utah Jazz, 126-118. It was the second game in the current road trip for the Jazz and looked like one they could pull out, but Demar DeRozan was monstrous late and willed the Bulls to the late victory over Utah.
But for the Jazz, there was a lot to be happy about. First, Lauri Markkanen has become an absolutely abusive dunker. He is going to the rim with reckless abandon and leaving disembodied souls in his wake. What he did tonight to Nikola Vucevic might be illegal in some states.
LAURI MARKKANEN JUST POSTERIZED VUC pic.twitter.com/6XTMQms8Wh— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 8, 2023
But Markkanen didn’t just commit heinous murder with Vucevic, and he was a serial killer tonight. No one was safe.
The transformation of Lauri Markkanen to an all-star this season has been one of the best stories in the NBA this season. You can see Markkanen blossoming more and more every night. He’s hungry for that all-star bid and for wins, and opposing teams have to reckon with what he’s become. For Jazz fans, it means having a blast every night. The best thing about it is Markkanen does it within the offense. He doesn’t pound the air out of the ball for 5 seconds before driving and diving into a defender to get the foul. Instead, he’s using the offense to find mismatches in the post, curling off screens for an open three, or cutting to the basket in half-court or transition. 28 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals. Light work for the Finnisher.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
His name is Ochai Agbaji, and he’s coming for a rotation spot. Tonight Agbaji went 7/7 from the field, including going 4/4 from three. He also went 1/1 from the free throw line for a literal perfect night of shooting the basketball. It’s been a long time coming for Agbaji, who has been patiently awaiting his chance to get on the floor. Now that he’s getting a clear chance, it’s going very well.
There was talk early in the season about why Agbaji wasn’t on the floor. The question is, who was he going to get minutes over? To get on the floor, Hardy would have had to sit either Jordan Clarkson, Malik Beasley, or Collin Sexton. There wasn’t much there to be had. Instead, Agbaji looked tentative and had to make some trips with the Stars. Now, with confidence in his minutes, Agbaji is on a roll, and there’s no reason he can’t continue to improve. He’s got nice size, a sweet stroke, and also looks like he can be an impact defender. The trades for Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are looking better every day.
The fact that Jazz fans are getting to see this while also getting closer to a top pick in the draft is a perfect scenario. The Jazz may still find a way into the play-in tournament, but they are 3-7 in their last ten. The Jazz probably look at this as their chance to make some moves before February 9th. With some nice draft picks in this draft likely coming their way, the future is very, very bright in Utah.