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.
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.”
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.
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.