Perhaps the biggest surprise of the young NBA season is the Utah Jazz.
The Jazz traded away their two best players in Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert for a boatload of draft picks, going into full-on rebuild mode.
However, they have surprised everyone by owning one of the NBA’s best records — they are 9-3 in their first dozen games and own the top spot in the Western Conference.
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Lauri Markkanen is in his first season with Utah after being a part of the Mitchell trade, which sent the latter to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Markkanen went from playoff contender to what many thought would be a bottom-dweller of the league.
The forward, though, said the negative chatter surrounding the team — specifically tanking talk — has motivated them.
“It definitely feeds us. …” he told Stadium. “We hate to see that every morning when we win, we see that it’s a surprise. We use that as our motivation to try to keep this team going and stack up more wins and prove people wrong.”
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Markkanen has played a large role in their success, averaging 21.9 points — by far a career high — and 8.8 rebounds per game. This comes despite a career low from behind the arc (29.7%), but in two-point range, he’s knocking down 68.1% of his shots, which is a far cry from his previous career-high of 58.2% two seasons ago.
His teammate, Malik Beasley, said Markkanen is playing at an All-Star level. Although it’s early, Markkanen surely wants to add that to his resume.
“That’s one of my personal goals, to eventually make it. I’m not looking [at] that 10 games in, but it’s definitely a goal of mine to make it, and that fuels me every night I go out there,” he said. “It’s definitely an extra boost, and now it feels like I don’t want to let him down. He brought it up and try to speak it to existence.”
“I’m trying to do my best because I know if I play at that level, I help the team the most to win. That’s what we all want to do. We want to win basketball games, and me being the best version of myself, I know that that’s going to be helpful for the team,” he continued.
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The Jazz will look for their fourth straight win on Wednesday when they take on the Hawks in Atlanta at 7:30 p.m. ET.