When the Utah Jazz decided to move on from the previous iteration of the roster, trading its star players in the summer of 2022, there were many who looked ahead to February of 2023.

For the first time in 30 years the NBA will descend on Salt Lake City and the surrounding communities as Utah hosts the 2023 NBA All-Star weekend.

Many found the timing of everything a bit unfortunate. The Jazz had three All-Stars on the roster in 2021, but it was clear that team had run its course, and a rebuilding roster doesn’t usually feature All-Stars.

Wait… is that Finnish music I hear?

Enter Lauri Markkanen.

Will Hardy hadn’t watched much, if any, of the Finnish national basketball team prior to this past offseason. But when Donovan Mitchell was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Markkanen, Collin Sexton, Ochai Agbaji and future picks, he figured he should probably see what his new player was up to.

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Hardy, like many others around the NBA, were blown away by Markkanen’s performance with his national team. Markkanen was not just a spot-up shooter, or a screener, or a dunker. He wasn’t just anything, he was everything.

Markkanen, at 7-feet tall, was running the floor, pushing in transition, initiating the offense, moving on and off the ball, guarding on the perimeter, in the interior and working as a ball-handler in the pick-and-roll. He was doing it all. Markkanen wasn’t a guy on that Finnish team, he was THE guy.

“He’s an All-Star, it’s not even a question. I hope nobody ever has to debate that.” — Mike Conley, on Lauri Markkanen

Then, going back to watch what Markkanen was doing in Cleveland last season, Hardy saw the beginnings of what was coming together as Markkanen played in the Eurobasket tournament.

“If you go back to early in his career, people were talking about him being the next Dirk Nowitzki,” head coach of the Cavaliers J.B. Bickerstaff said. “So this is what people thought he was going to be capable of… it was a great opportunity for him to be a part of this here, and then lead to that summer where the confidence was growing. and then to get to Utah where they allow him to feature and play to his skill set.”

Markkanen is absolutely not used to being the featured player. He’s still learning what it means to have defenses game plan and adjust specifically to him and how to use all of that to his advantage. He’s still trying to find the balance between being aggressive but also playing within a team structure. It’s not that he’s a selfish player. Actually the opposite. Sometimes he’s too much of a team player when it’s clear that he’s the best player on the floor and he needs to assert himself.

“That’s the best part of our team, to be able to move the ball and find the open guy and have everybody make decisions,” Markkanen said. “I’m still learning how to get the ball more while trying to play through the team offense.”

And even though Markkanen has not yet realized that he is the star on this Utah Jazz team, he is.

“He’s been scoring crazy, his numbers are crazy — field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, rebounding — he’s doing everything,” teammate Jordan Clarkson said.

Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen (23) and Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) yell
Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen (23) and Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) react as the Utah Jazz win an NBA game against the Phoenix Suns 134-133 at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 18, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

He’s right. On Tuesday night in Detroit, Markkanen scored 38 points, tying his career-high mark set just over a month ago. This season Markkanen is averaging 22.8 points per game, 8.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists and doing it all while shooting 53.4% overall from the floor and a staggering 43.8% from 3.

It’s laughable now to look back and think about how concerned some people were that Markkanen’s shooting percentage was down at the start of the season. He shot 29.7% from 3 through his first 12 games with the Jazz. He wasn’t worried. He promised that the numbers would even out and that he would find his rhythm. Since then he’s shot at a 51.5% clip from 3-point range.

Looking at the front court landscape in the Western Conference, it’s not at all out of the realm of possibility that Markkanen could be named to the All-Star team this season. He was already getting buzz before his tear over the last few weeks.

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It would obviously be very special for him to play his first All-Star game playing for the host team, but Markkanen has had that wish before. He was with the Bulls when the All-Star Game was held in Chicago and then was on the Cavaliers roster when Cleveland hosted last year’s game.

“Third time’s the charm,” Markkanen said before continuing to say what it would mean to make the team. “I’ve said this publicly before, but absolutely it has always been my personal goal. Obviously I’ve got team goals and I’m always gonna push those first, but like at an individual level that’s always been my goal. Not just to be one of the guys in the league, I want to make it to the top.”

Well, ask anyone of his teammates or his coaches or anyone else that’s seen him play this season and they’re likely to tell you that Markkanen should be on the 2023 All-Star team.

“He’s an All-Star, it’s not even a question,” Mike Conley said. “I hope nobody ever has to debate that.”

Hardy feels like he doesn’t really need to tell people that Markkanen is an All-Star because everything he’s been doing on the court is speaking volumes.

“When other teams play the Utah Jazz they know they have to game plan for Lauri Markkanen,” Hardy said. “I don’t think that there’s a whole lot that I need to say that his play hasn’t said already.”

The Utah Jazz’s Lauri Markkanen looks for a passing lane.
The Utah Jazz’s Lauri Markkanen (23) looks for a passing lane while playing the Memphis Grizzlies in an NBA game in Salt Lake City on Monday, Oct. 31, 2022. The Jazz won 121-105. | Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

NBA All-Star fan voting opened up on Tuesday night and runs through Jan. 21.

Though Hardy doesn’t feel the need to campaign for Markkanen, teammate Malik Beasley wants to make sure everyone is doing their part to secure Markkanen’s spot on the All-Star team.

“Go vote for my boy,” Beasley said. “He’s an All-Star for sure, he deserves it, especially in the hometown. I already voted for him, so why shouldn’t you?”