Not that yet more validation was needed, but it was thought that Lauri Markkanen might get one last stamp of approval Wednesday afternoon on his breakout season.
It didn’t happen.
Roughly a week and a half after being named the NBA’s Most Improved Player, the Utah Jazz star was not voted to any of the three All-NBA Teams announced Wednesday — denoting the 15 best players in the league this season (three centers, six forwards, and six guards).
Markkanen was a distant seventh among the forwards in the voting among 100 media members, garnering just six Second Team votes and 31 Third Team votes. His 49 total points placed him well behind the Third Team forward garnering the fewest points (the Lakers’ LeBron James, with 81 points).
Despite the snub, it was hardly a bad season for some random member of the Finnish military.
“They’re both big,” Markkanen said during his exit interview, when asked about his prospects for Most Improved Player and All-NBA. “I take a lot of pride in the work I put in and just seeing the progress I was able to make this year.”
Expectations for Markkanen were perhaps muted when he was first announced as part of the return haul in the trade that sent Donovan Mitchell to the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, “The Finnisher” very quickly reset the perception of him with a star-making performance at the Eurobasket tournament.
In the seven games he played there, Markkanen averaged 27.9 points (second-most in the tournament) and 8.1 rebounds (ninth-best), while shooting 54.2% from the field, 40.5% on 3s, and 90.6% at the line. He had three double-doubles. He scored 33 points vs. Israel in the opener, 34 vs. the Czech Republic later in the group stage, and racked up 43 (on 19-for-29 shooting) in a Round of 16 victory over Croatia. The Susijengi — “Wolfpack” — unexpectedly reached the quarterfinals.
Could he make that production translate to the NBA, though?
Markkanen made the All-Star Game for the first time in his career, and wound up starting and playing in his home arena — an experience he called “pretty surreal.”
And despite being on the receiving end of previously unseen levels of defensive attention, he would finish the season averaging 25.6 points (besting his previous high by almost 7 ppg), 8.6 rebounds per game (second-best of his career), and 1.9 assists (also a career-high). His 49.9 FG%, 39.1 3P%, 87.5 FT%, 58.6 eFG%, and 64.0 TS% were all either the best or second-best marks of his career.
He proved instrumental in helping a Jazz team expected to post a win total in the low- to mid-20s instead dramatically exceed expectations and finish at 37-45, improbably remaining in playoff contention until the final days of the season.
The All-NBA First Team consisted of Sixers center and MVP Joel Embiid, forwards Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks and Jayson Tatum of the Celtics, plus guards Luka Doncic of the Mavericks and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Thunder.
Second Team honorees were center Nikola Jokic of the Nuggets, forwards Jaylen Brown of the Celtics and Jimmy Butler of the Heat, and guards Steph Curry of the Warriors and Mitchell of the Cavs.
The Third Team consisted of center Domantas Sabonis of the Kings, forwards Julius Randle of the Knicks and James of the Lakers, and guards De’Aaron Fox of the Kings and Damian Lillard of the Trail Blazers.