UTAH JAZZ

Rick Carlisle: Jazz Markkanen ‘Closet Thing’ To Nowitzki

Jan 15, 2024, 6:32 PM | Updated: 6:32 pm

Utah Jazz Memphis Grizzlies Lauri Markkanen...

Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen (23) calls for a foul after sinking a 3 during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

(Photo courtesy of Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle was complimentary of Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen, comparing the Finnish forward to Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki.

As the Jazz and Pacers prepared to face one another, Carlisle shared his thoughts on the newly minted Western Conference Player of the Week.

“He’s the closest thing I’ve seen to Nowitzki,” Carlise offered of Markkanen.

It’s a major compliment coming from the coach who worked with Nowtizki after developing into one of the league’s greatest superstars over their 11 years together in Dallas.

Carlisle On Nowitzki, Markkanen

While Nowitzki hit his All-Star stride much earlier in his career than Markkanen, Carlisle recognized the Jazz forward’s potential when he worked out for the Mavericks ahead of the 2017 NBA Draft.

“We had the ninth pick, we were hoping for some way he would have fallen to us that night,” Carlisle remembered, “but after we worked him out it was pretty clear to me it was unlikely to happen. Athletically he tested much better than expected — much more powerful.”

Markkanen was selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the seventh pick before being traded to the Chicago Bulls for Jimmy Butler on draft night. The Mavericks wound up selecting Dennis Smith Jr. two picks later.

After an up-and-down stretch in Chicago, Markkanen was traded to Cleveland where coach JB Bickerstaff opted to move the fifth-year big man to small forward, a move Carlisle credited with unlocking his potential.

“When you start at the three as a 6-foot-11 — seven-foot guy, and now you’re guarding the smaller quicker guys and stuff like that, you learn more things about the game,” Carlise said. “I think all those things, all those experiences in Chicago and Cleveland really set him up for explosion here in Utah.”

Markkanen is averaging 23.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 1.8 assists while shooting 49 percent from the floor and 39 percent from the three-point line.

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Ben Anderson is the Utah Jazz insider for KSL Sports and the co-host of Jake and Ben from 10-12p with Jake Scott on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone. Find Ben on Twitter at @BensHoops or on Instagram @BensHoops.

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