Former Arizona basketball stars Lauri Markkanen and Bennedict Mathurin each had breakout seasons, Markkanen in his first year with the Utah Jazz and Mathurin as a rookie with the Indiana Pacers.
On Friday, Markkanen was named a finalist for the NBA’s Most Improved Player of the Year, along with the New York Knicks’ Jalen Brunson and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
The 2023 NBA Most Improved Player of the Year finalists— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) April 14, 2023
Lauri Markkanen pic.twitter.com/jr4d5q6Kux
Mathurin, meanwhile, was snubbed as a Rookie of the Year finalist by Markkanen’s Utah teammate, Walker Kessler, who joins the Orlando Magic’s Paolo Banchero and the Thunder’s Jalen Williams as finalists for the award.
Markkanen was a no-brainer for MIP finalist after averaging 25.6 points and 8.6 rebounds for the Jazz. Markkanen was traded to Utah this past summer from Cleveland, where he posted 14.8 points and 5.7 rebounds.
The move to Utah helped Markkanen rediscover his on-court identity. As the Jazz’s go-to scorer, Markkanen developed a 3-point shot, averaging three buckets a game from the perimeter. Markkanen shot 49.9% from the field, a career-high.
Markkanen was also a stud on the defensive side, allowing fewer than one point per possession at the rim.
Lowest points per possession allowed at the rim (minimum 150 possessions)— Swoops (@PlaySwoops) April 14, 2023
1. Porzingis: 0.87
2. Brooks: 0.88
3. JJJ: 0.90
4. Markkanen: 0.95
6. Claxton: 0.97
7. Washington: 0.989
8. Gafford: 0.99
9. Ayton: 1.02
10. Okongwu: 1.024
58. Sengun: 1.31 pic.twitter.com/tLZX4COmxg
Mathurin’s absence as a ROY finalist is a bit of a head scratcher. Mathurin averaged 16.7 points, second-most among all rookies behind Banchero. His scoring average is more than 2.5 points higher than Williams despite Mathurin only starting 17 games compared to 62 starts for Williams.
Kessler’s impact is more on the glass, where he averaged 8.4 rebounds to go along with 9.2 points. Kessler started 40 games for Utah.
Mathurin was the second-leading scorer off the bench in the NBA and was the first rookie to score 1,000 points off the bench in 18 years. That should have made him a shoo-in for ROY finalist.
Bennedict Mathurin finished the season as the NBA's second-leading rookie scorer (16.7 PPG) and second-leading scorer off the bench (16.9 PPG).— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) April 12, 2023
he was the first rookie to score 1,000 points off the bench in 18 years. pic.twitter.com/TwlTXX3FeO
If there’s a bright side to Mathurin’s snub, it’s that it gives the 20-year-old even more motivation heading into the offseason. Year 2 for Benn should be something to behold.