How Lauri Markkanen’s call to duty for Finland led to a hot start in Utah

Yahoo Sports senior NBA reporter Jake Fischer explains how Lauri Markkanen found his groove playing for his native Finland in this summer’s EuroBasket tournament — and is now hitting the right tune for the Jazz early season.

Video Transcript


JAKE FISCHER: Lauri Markkanen is off to a hot start with the Utah Jazz this season, and you could have seen it coming if you watched him play for Finland in the EuroBasket this summer in Prague, taking the Finnish national team all the way to the quarterfinals, losing only to the eventual champion, Spanish national team, where Lauri was the man. He was the go-to guy. He developed the confidence that maybe he perhaps lost along the way in Chicago. Three different head coaches, a tide shifting beneath the surface, becoming, really, a franchise built around Zach LaVine, and coming out from Cleveland by way of Donovan Mitchell blockbuster that shocked the league this year.

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The evening before EuroBasket began in Prague this summer, Lauri Markkanen told me he was playing "Call of Duty" in his hotel room with a teammate when a Twitter notification alerted to him the fact his Cleveland Cavaliers had just acquired Donovan Mitchell, a shocking blockbuster that Cavaliers officials themselves didn't even believe, really, had a chance of becoming a reality. Here comes Markkanen now, a world away, trying to focus on the Finland national team, and Koby Altman is calling his phone, alerting him to the fact he is also in the trade as well.

Markkanen couldn't sleep that evening, he told me. He ended up wandering the streets of the [? Old ?] [? City ?] in Prague with the national team trainer and ultimately focused on the task at hand. He led Finland to the quarterfinals of the EuroBasket, and he displayed exactly what he's been capable of doing for this Utah Jazz team that was supposed to be mired in a rebuild, they're out to a surprising 4 and 1 start largely on the back of Markkanen's 22 points, nine rebounds, and three assists, and a collection of other strong play from Jordan Clarkson and Kelly Olynyk.

But Markkanen finding success in Utah as a contract added largely into this Mitchell blockbuster, but a potential promising piece. A former lottery pick that a lot of executives around the league pinned to be an All-Star caliber player back in the 2017 draft. Perhaps he's finally found a home to let that talent flourish.