Lauri Markkanen could be game-changing acquisition for NBA contender

Lauri Markkanen could be game-changing acquisition for NBA contender

This season, there's no NBA team that seems poised to breeze through the postseason. However, there are a number of legitimate championship contenders and a multitude of organizations that are a single piece away from joining that tier.

As the NBA's Feb. 8 trade deadline approaches, the most intriguing target for these teams is Utah Jazz star forward Lauri Markkanen. The All-Star is averaging 23.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.2 threes on 49.4% shooting from the field and 38.5% from three-point range in 27 games this season.

The Jazz are reportedly willing to have conversations involving Markkanen, although their asking price is significant. Expect plenty of front offices to express interest in the forward over the next month.

If Utah decides to move Markkanen, the Oklahoma City Thunder would be a perfect landing spot. With the second-best record in the Western Conference, OKC is already seen as a contender, but the reigning Most Improved Player could put them over the hump. Their core is highlighted by superstar Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, center Chet Holmgren and forward Jalen Williams. This trio fuels one of the highest-powered offenses in the league, ranking in the top five in many statistical categories. The addition of Markkanen would provide scoring and size to one of the NBA’s biggest lineups. Not to mention, he fits their timeline perfectly since he's only 26 years old.

The Miami Heat could make sense as a trade partner for Utah as well. Miami’s roster is filled with a mix of veterans and young talent. Forward Jimmy Butler is past his prime at 34 years old, while Bam Adebayo (26 years old), Tyler Herro (23 years old) and Jaime Jaquez Jr. (22 years old) are significantly younger. Markkanen could balance their eras, excelling them into Eastern Conference contention with the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics this season while also fitting alongside Adebayo, Herro, Jaquez and Co. going forward. Pat Riley is constantly star hunting, so this kind of move wouldn't be a surprise.

There are quite a few contenders that could use Markkanen, as his skill-set allows him to fit seamlessly with virtually every team.

One non-playoff team that could be a fascinating destination for Markkanen is San Antonio, where he would be paired with No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama. The 20-year-old from France is one of the most exciting prospects in NBA history. He has not disappointed early in his career, as he is averaging 19.2 points and 10.1 rebounds. The Spurs have a history of developing big men into superstars, including Tim Duncan and David Robinson. Getting Wemby some help could speed up the Spurs' plan and allow them to maximize the final years of Gregg Popovich's coaching career.

Markkanen is a diverse offensive weapon who thrives on all three levels. His height allows him to finish inside the paint without a strength-based style of play. A minimal amount of his shots come in the mid-range, but he has the talent to knock them down efficiently. He's a 7-footer who can knock down threes at a near-40% clip, which is somewhat rare for someone his size.

He uses his various methods of scoring to his advantage by exhibiting a balanced approach on offense. This season, 41.7% of his points come from two-pointers, while 40.9% are three-pointers. Markkanen tends to perform better as an off-ball scorer, with 82.7% of his points coming off assists. This ability to play alongside other stars makes him even more attractive to playoff teams, as they already have studs who demand the ball in their hands.

While his stats have slightly decreased this year because of fewer minutes and a lower usage rate, it's worth pointing out that Markkanen still accounts for more than a fourth of Utah’s made field goals.

It remains to be seen if the Jazz will seriously consider moving Markkanen, but plenty of playoff teams will pick up the phone if he's put on the trade block.

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