The headliner among Utah Jazz players that competed in the FIBA World Cup was Lauri Markkanen of Team Finland. Not only is he coming from his career year in the NBA, the Wolf Pack (Finland) also came off a successful 2022 Eurobasket – leading his nation to a quarterfinal berth.
After making the World Cup through the six windows of the FIBA qualifiers, Finland was drawn to Group E alongside Germany, Australia, and Japan. And being part of one of the more competitive groups in the tournament, the team struggled to get their groove in the group phase.
But individually, it wasn’t the case for Markkanen – as he became the third best scorer of the World Cup on average. Yet, we will always revert to the old cliche of understanding that basketball is a team sport and no one player can save the day. Indeed, this was true for Markkanen.
However, let’s set aside the team’s performance first. It’s time to get to the heart of this piece and assess what Markkanen showed in the World Cup in relation to the upcoming NBA regular season.
Before we deep dive with film, here’s some numbers we need to note. Markkanen had an amazing raw stat line of 24.8 points, 8 rebounds, 1.2 assists on 51/25/90 shooting splits (63 TS%). If you’re into advanced metrics as well, provided by Hack A Stat, Finland won Markkanen’s minutes on the court by 6.7 points per 100 possessions. That is a big plus with the -3.6 overall net rating the team had in the five games they played.
In terms of his offensive production, even though there was a dip in shooting efficiency in the perimeter, it was still overcompensated by his elite finishing at the rim. To Jazz fans, this shouldn’t come as a surprise – where he amassed 1.3 points per possessions (PPP) featuring drives to the rim last season, per Synergy. A jump to his offensive repertoire that ultimately made him the Most Improved Player last season.
Just imagine guarding a 7’0” skilled big with tight handles to get to the cup. Markkanen displayed his driving prowess in the World Cup as he had a rim frequency of 24% while scoring 1.63 points per shot (PPS) on those occasions. What makes it more lethal and harder to defend is he attacks early in transition when there are still cross matches.
Another important aspect of Markkanen’s game that needs to be highlighted is his ability to drive closeouts. Sort of a redundant statement, his archetype of his skill and size is a handful to stop because he can just finish on top of defenders.
As teams put premium in stopping Markkanen to stall Finland’s offense, he also became a great option off-ball through cuts. According to InStat, he garnered 1.7 PPP out of the aforementioned playtype. It’s encouraging to see that your superstar is willing to become a movement threat especially in the halfcourt that prevents stagnation.
To the defense part of his game, Markkanen can definitely hang in the perimeter and be a rim protector in drives. Again, this is common knowledge for Jazz fans – since he only allowed 0.89 PPP when he’s the primary defender at the rim last season, according to Synergy. In short, it’s tough to score against Markkanen.
Though the statistics could be noisy because of the low sample size, there were still glimpses of what Markkanen can do whenever gets a contest up. His length alone can bother shots and with the discipline he has laterally, Markkanen can and will be an impactful defender.
The World Cup showing of Markkanen must not be taken for granted due to one important lesson: to become an efficient scorer equates to shooting the lights out of the basketball. Markkanen made sure to take what the defense gave him to remain effective and helpful for the team.
For the upcoming NBA season, Markkanen might be on the adjustment phase once more with the insertion of John Collins into the lineup. However, it’s arduous to think that he’ll have a hard time if you’ve watched him the whole World Cup. So it will be intriguing to watch how these reps have made him a better playing by training camp.
Expect another spectacular year in store from the Finnish superstar as he tries to lead the Jazz into greater heights!