Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen capped a stunning turnaround in his career by claiming the NBA's Most Improved Player Award on Monday night.
Markkanen (69 first-place votes, 430 total points) edged Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (24, 289) and New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (4, 91) to earn the honor.
Another 10 players received at least one vote, including Brooklyn Nets center Nic Claxton, Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton and New Orleans Pelicans guard Trey Murphy III getting at least one first-place selection.
Markkanen, who is in Finland completing his mandated service to the country's military this summer, was traded to Utah as part of the deal that sent Donovan Mitchell to the Cleveland Cavaliers in September. The 7-foot forward had averaged under 15 points per game during each of his previous three seasons -- the first two with the Chicago Bulls and 2021-22 with Cleveland -- then recorded what is by far the best season of his career, averaging 25.6 points on 49.9% shooting overall and 39.1% from 3-point range with the Jazz.
As a result, Markkanen was selected to his first All-Star team in February, and he is a strong candidate to nab one of the six All-NBA forward selections when those teams are announced later this postseason.
Gilgeous-Alexander, meanwhile, also was selected for his first All-Star team, and he is a virtual lock to be an All-NBA selection after averaging 31.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists while shooting 51% from the field for the Thunder this season. He led one of the youngest rosters in the NBA -- one missing the No. 2 overall pick from last year's NBA draft, Chet Holmgren, due to a foot injury -- to the verge of the playoffs.
In his first season as a Knick, Brunson has helped direct New York to the brink of just the franchise's second playoff series victory in a generation, scoring 26 points in New York's Game 4 victory over the Cavaliers on Sunday afternoon to give the Knicks a 3-1 lead in that first-round series.
Brunson, who signed a four-year deal with New York as a free agent this past summer after helping the Dallas Mavericks reach the Western Conference finals last season, averaged a career-high 24 points and 6.2 assists while shooting 49% from the field.
Markkanen follows the first round of awards handed out by the NBA last week: Defensive Player of the Year (Memphis Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr.); Clutch Player of the Year (Sacramento Kings guard De'Aaron Fox); Coach of the Year (Kings coach Mike Brown); and Sixth Man of the Year (Boston Celtics guard Malcolm Brogdon).
The NBA will announce its Rookie of the Year Award winner Tuesday night, with Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero, Jazz center Walker Kessler and Thunder forward Jalen Williams having been named finalists. The All-NBA, All-Defense and All-Rookie teams -- along with the league's Most Valuable Player Award -- will be unveiled later this postseason.