Lauri Markkanen has won the 2022-23 NBA Most Improved Player Award, the league announced on Monday. Markkanen was a first-time All-Star as a member of the Utah Jazz this season, ultimately starting the mid-season exhibition at his home arena. He averaged 25.6 points per game for the Jazz while flirting with 50/40/90 shooting splits in his first season as a primary offensive option.
Markkanen began his career as the No. 7 overall pick of the 2017 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls. He spent the first four seasons of his career there, but when he became a restricted free agent in 2021, he agreed to a four-year contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers and landed there in a sign-and-trade. There, he played out of position at small forward due to Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen already holding the power forward and center spots in Cleveland's rotation.
Fortunately, he'd only have to spend a season in Cleveland. When the Cavaliers pursued Donovan Mitchell in the 2022 offseason, they ultimately needed to deal Markkanen to Utah to complete the deal alongside Collin Sexton, Ochai Agbaji and a number of draft picks. For the first time in his career, the Jazz allowed Markkanen to serve as a featured scorer. He took advantage of it by posting one of the best stat lines in all of basketball for the season.
Markkanen is the first member of the Jazz to win the Most Improved Player award. The Jazz as a team, however, have collected plenty of trophies recently. Rudy Gobert won three Defensive Player of the Year awards in Utah, and Jordan Clarkson won the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year trophy in 2021. Now that Markkanen has won Most Improved Player, the Jazz have now won all six of the NBA's major regular-season awards. Karl Malone won two MVP awards with the Jazz, Frank Layden won Coach of the Year in 1984, and Darrell Griffith won Rookie of the Year in 1981.
The Jazz likely could have made the playoffs this season had they not traded three key players at the deadline. Next season they'll likely make a greater commitment to winning immediately, and if they do, Markkanen will be able to show off his improvement against elite competition. If he keeps up his level of performance from this season, the Jazz will go far in the coming years.