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Finnish Jazz forward Markkanen wins NBA Most Improved award

Lauri Markkanen #23 of the Utah Jazz. Photo: Nathaniel S. Butler / NBAE / Getty Images / Getty Images via AFP

Finnish forward Lauri Markkanen of the Utah Jazz was named the NBA’s 2023 Most Improved Player on Monday after boosting his scoring average by nearly 11 points a game.

The 25-year-old Finnish forward earned his first All-Star selection this season and finished with career highs of 25.6 points and 1.9 assists plus 8.6 rebounds a game.

Markkanen, who boosted his scoring average by an NBA-best 10.87 points a game this season, also had career-best shooting averages of 49.9% from the floor and 87.5% from the free throw line for the Jazz.

“It feels amazing,” Markkanen told NBA telecaster TNT from Helsinki, where he is fulfilling Finland military service requirements. “It’s a huge privilege to be in this position.”

The 7-footer (2.13m), whose parents were both pro basketball players, was selected seventh overall by Minnesota in the 2017 NBA Draft and played for Chicago and Cleveland before being traded to Utah last September in the deal that sent Donovan Mitchell to the Cavaliers.

“Just being in the right place at the right time,” Markkanen said of his campaign.

“I really wasn’t the isolation player this year. I always give credit to guys finding me when I was open. I just tried to show up every night and be consistent.

“I really tried to learn and step into that leadership role in the locker room. I’m still working on that.”

When it came to the military, Markkanen said he had plenty of others who wanted to play him one-on-one, but none yet who outranked him.

“Days are pretty long but it has been pretty fun,” he said. “Made a lot of new friends. We have to go through it together.”

He’s the first European player to capture the award since Greek star Giannis Antetokounmpo of Milwaukee in 2017 and the first Jazz player ever to win the award.

Other finalists for the award were New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson from the United States and Canadian guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

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