Jazz Notes: Markkanen, Clarkson, THT

First-time All-Star Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen is thinking beyond the Most Improved Player award, for which he is a clear frontrunner, writes Nick Friedell of ESPN.

Per Friedell, Markkanen’s main priority this year is helping Utah qualify for the play-in tournament. At 33-35, the Jazz currently occupy the Western Conference’s tenth seed.

“I talked about the responsibility, and I’m enjoying the challenge, and if those individual goals happen, if we keep winning games and I keep doing my thing [that would be ideal],” Markkanen said. “I go every single day to keep working, and I hope that happens, but we’ll see. Just try to get these wins together and keep going from there, but obviously it would be a cool trophy to have at home, but that’s not the main goal right now.”

There’s more out of Utah:

  • Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson sat out Saturday’s game against the Hornets with a right thumb sprain, per Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune (Twitter link). It marked his fifth absence in Utah’s past six games.
  • The Jazz still aren’t sure whether or not Talen Horton-Tucker is a point guard, but when he has games like he did on Saturday – when he scored 37 points, dished out 10 assists, and pulled down eight boards in leading Utah to victory over Charlotte – his designation doesn’t much matter, writes Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune. As Walden notes, Horton-Tucker may be finding his niche as a play-maker during what has been an uneven first season with the Jazz. “I am incredibly hard on Talen, I have been all season; he knows that that is because I believe in him, in his talent, his ability,” first-year Jazz head coach Will Hardy said. “He’s still young — he just turned 22 — and he has some real physical gifts that were on display tonight.”
  • The recent performances of a revitalized Horton-Tucker could help set him up nicely for the rest of his NBA career, Sarah Todd of The Deseret News opines. Horton-Tucker has an $11MM player option for 2023/24, and is still hoping to prove his value beyond the end of his current deal.
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