- Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) is a senior writer for ESPN Digital and Print.
This week we focus on something wrong in Atlanta, the two-way growth of Utah’s new All-Star, how the Washington Wizards are satisfying their play-in cravings and the horrors of the Houston Rockets’ defense.
1. Lauri Markkanen is doing everything
You keep waiting for the slump — for reality to slap Markkanen in the face, to remind him how he disappointed with the Chicago Bulls, that he never hinted he could survive as the No. 1 option.
It appears you can stop waiting. Markkanen keeps doing this, keeps looking self-assured even as defenses throw everything at him. He is averaging 24.5 points on better than 50-40 shooting — including a mammoth 61% on 2s. Over his last 11 games, Markkanen has poured in 30.5 points and gotten to the line almost nine times per game. He has (at worst) a very strong All-Star case. He might be a lock. Utah is plus-5 per 100 possessions with Markkanen on the floor and minus-6.8 when he sits. He is the keystone of a strange roster constructed ad hoc from the remnants of mega-trades.
Marrkanen’s game has bloomed outward from the threat of his 3-pointer off pindowns, pick-and-pops, and other sets; after his jumper floundered early in his career, Markkanen is above 40% from deep for the second time in three seasons.
Switch those actions, and Markkanen can mash smaller guys in the post; Utah has averaged 1.2 points directly out of Markkanen post-ups — 10th among 83 players with at least 20 post touches, per Second Spectrum. He twirls into quick baseline moves, and uses his long arms to flick the ball in from odd angles:
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