The Triple Team: Lauri Markkanen continues to raise his game to new heights. Could other players in Jazz history do this?

Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen (23) reacts after a dunk against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 120-119 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Lauri. Markkanen.

How is Lauri Markkanen doing this?

He was basically considered a floor spacer coming in to this season. And now, even on nights when he shoots 25% from three, he’s scoring 43 points, adding 10 rebounds, and nearly single-handedly carrying the Jazz back into games in the 4th quarter. It’s one of the most impressive levels-up in the middle of a player’s career we’ve ever seen.

Look at this play. He has absolutely no business dunking this ball. He has to dribble twice, around two different OKC defenders, and then dunk it over a third.

Except that wasn’t even the least likely dunk of the night. This is actually really good defense from Kenrich Williams: he stays in front, shades Markkanen towards the baseline, into where the help is. The help comes! It’s there! But Markkanen somehow jumps backwards through the defensive sandwich and enough to get behind the rim so he can slam it down.

Let me ask you this: is there any other player in Jazz history that’s making these two plays? Andrei Kirilenko I don’t think would have dribbled through this contact, though maybe he comes closest. But I’m relatively confident that Markkanen is the most versatile 7-footer in Jazz history.

Markkanen now has 92 dunks on the season, by far a career high — his previous was 63. There are, of course, still 21 games left to go. I think the mentality is part of Markkanen’s increase, I think the situations that the Jazz’s offense puts him in are good... but I think a lot of it is just that Markkanen is straight-up more athletic than he was last season.

“Last couple of years I’ve changed my — not that it was bad before — but I changed my program a little bit,” Markkanen said. “I do feel better physically, I lost some weight. It’s just easier to move that kind of body.”

Regardless of why, it’s wholly remarkable. Lauri Markkanen is one of the best players in the NBA, and the Jazz have team control of him on perhaps the league’s best contract for two more years.

2. Kris Dunn, backup point guard

I’ve always liked the idea of adding Kris Dunn to the Jazz.

You’ll remember the problems the Jazz have had in perimeter defense over the last few years, and Kris Dunn is an extremely cheap way to add one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. Sure, he’s not very good at most other things — he can’t shoot, he’s not super athletic — but he’s a really good defender.

When the Jazz couldn’t defend any guard over the past four seasons, I would have liked Dunn to at least be an option. When Reggie Jackson is leading his offense to like a 200 offensive rating in the playoffs, the Jazz desperately needed something beyond what they had defensively.

Now, that being said, no other team really took that leap to sign him, either. He played sparingly for the Blazers last season, playing 14 games. This season, he’s played the whole year with the Capital City Go-Go (hilarious name), the G-League team of the Washington Wizards. He didn’t play well enough for any team to bite until now. Frankly, my “Kris Dunn is useful in the NBA” take has more evidence against it than for it.

But I thought he played well tonight. He finished with 11 points on 5-10 shooting. He was an extremely responsible point guard, if not an athletic one: he basically maneuvered into the paint a lot without putting much pressure on the defense. OKC felt confident in its ability to leave him open from three, where he only made 1-4.

Also, we just haven’t seen a Jazz player be able to make many plays like this recently.

He’s 28, so this is probably what he is. In my opinion, he’s a situational weapon, probably one you’d prefer not be in your rotation forever. Ultimately, you’d rather give Collin Sexton point guard minutes, and probably Talen Horton-Tucker as well. Frank Jackson is also there for competition. As a situational weapon, he probably makes more sense on a competing team — like the Jazz of the last two seasons — than this Jazz team.

It might make most sense for the Jazz to use that spot on a developing young player who might pop, though maybe you can argue that Dunn’s potential as a No. 5 pick coming off of injury is actually higher than, say, a young undrafted kid.

But regardless, better late than never. I’m glad he’s finally on this team to watch him up close.

3. Jazz Bear’s clothes

This is an insane Triple Team point.


Recently, the Jazz Bear has started to wear pants. Human pants.

It’s hard to find great pictures of this, but it looks to be a move that’s started this season. Here is the one picture I could find on Twitter.

Here’s one that our photographer, Francisco Kjolseth, took earlier this year.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Jazz Bear gets on his knees to pray in hopes of the Jazz tying the game for a chance at a win as the Utah Jazz take on the Miami Heat in NBA basketball at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday Dec. 31, 2022. The Miami Heat won 126-123.

Look, the Jazz Bear is a bear. He truly has no other identity; he has no name. We know three things about the Bear: that he is a bear, that he supports the Jazz, and that he is a mascot. For him to wear human skinny jeans is counter to what he is.

But lo, dear reader, it gets worse. Tonight, he wore a human jacket and human t-shirt, along with his human skinny jeans. Heck, look in those photos above — he’s even wearing human sneakers! (Albeit with fur attached, which is admittedly a nice touch.)

Now, I know what you’re saying: the Jazz Bear wears human clothes all the time! After all, these are human clothes:

The Utah Jazz Bear shows his support during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Atlanta Hawks Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Yes, but these are Jazz clothes, which he is allowed to wear because he is a Jazz Bear.

But wait, Andy, what about this? Here, he’s clearly not wearing bear clothes... these are turkey clothes!

Yes, but this is funny. The Jazz Bear is a mascot, which means he is allowed to do funny things.

The human skinny jeans — and human normal clothes in general — are not funny, they are not bear, they are not Jazz. They just are... kinda weird.

For the sake of cognitive assonance, I have a take: Jazz Bear should return to his normal, bear-centric clothes.

Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

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