Ben Anderson: Yes, Lauri Markkanen will be an All-Star

Feb 2, 2023, 2:52 PM | Updated: Feb 3, 2023, 1:28 pm

Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen (23) goes to the basket as Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes...

Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen (23) goes to the basket as Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes (4) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY – The NBA is set to announce the All-Star reserves tonight on TNT at 5 pm MT, and Utah Jazz fans should expect Lauri Markkanen to hear his name called.

The Finnish forward has had a stellar season, averaging 24.9 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 1.8 assists while shooting 52 percent from the floor, 43 percent from three, and 87 percent from the free throw line.

He’s also led the Jazz, a team many expected to finish with one of the worst records in the league, to a 27-26 record past the midway point of the season.

And while Markkanen’s numbers and the Jazz’s surprising success are strong reasons for the forward to earn his first All-Star nod, there’s plenty more evidence supporting his case.

Markkanen’s availability

Let’s be clear, it’s extremely difficult to make an All-Star team regardless of which conference you play in. With only 12 spots available, and five chosen by a mixture of fan, media, and player voting, it’s difficult for any player from the state of Utah to earn a starting spot.

That means they have to be one of the two backcourt, three frontcourt, or two wild card reserves chosen by NBA coaches to fill out the roster.

It just so happens, the frontcourt in the West this season has been lacking.

FILE — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announces the 2023 All-Star Game is coming to Salt Lake City. (KSL TV)

Forwards and centers in the West this season have been ravaged by injury, especially among the conference’s more traditional perennial starters.

Kawhi Leonard has been named an All-Star each of the last five seasons he was healthy but has played only 29 games this year.

Paul George is a seven-time All-Star but has only played 37 games.

Anthony Davis is an eight-time All-Star but has appeared in only 28 games.

Last year Andrew Wiggins earned a surprise starting nod in the West but has missed 20 games of his own.

Rudy Gobert will miss his first All-Star game in four seasons due to a down statistical season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, while teammate Karl-Anthony Towns, a three-time All-Star himself, hasn’t suited up since November 28.

The simple fact that Markkanen has appeared in 48 of the Jazz’s 53 games this season while maintaining his strong averages might be his strongest argument to be an All-Star.

In fact, several voters around the league preferred Markkanen to All-Starter Zion Williamson, who hasn’t played since Jan. 2.

The competition

Though numerous Western Conference frontcourt players have been injured, it’s not as though Markkanen doesn’t have real competition to make the All-Star team.

The Jazz forward is far from the only player having a breakout season on a team outperforming expectations.

Domantas Sabonis, like Markkanen, should be a shoo-in to make the All-Star team. The Sacramento Kings have the third-best record in the West, Sabonis is averaging a very efficient 18.8 points per game, leads the league in rebounding at 12.3 per game, and is handing out 7.1 assists per game.

There’s a real argument to be made that Sabonis should have been chosen ahead of Williamson as a starter, and is the reason he is set to make his third career All-Star appearance.

Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon is also having a standout season for the top-ranked team in the West. Gordon is averaging 16.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.7 assists while shooting a career-best 57 percent from the floor and 38 percent from the three-point line.

But while Gordon’s team has outperformed the Jazz, his numbers are inferior to Markkanen’s nearly across the board, and he’s the third-best player on the Nuggets behind MVP-favorite Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.

It’s no knock on Gordon, but he shouldn’t be in over Markkanen.

The only other frontcourt player in the West who could make an argument to earn an All-Star nod is Warriors big man Draymond Green whose numbers this season are nearly identical to last year when he was named a reserve.

Jerami Grant has also had arguably his best season as a pro averaging 21.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists while shooting a stellar 48 percent from the floor and 42 percent from three.

Like Gordon, he carries a bigger burden defensively than Markkanen most nights he steps on the floor.

However, Grant doesn’t have the benefit of a strong team record to buoy his candidacy with Portland sitting a game back of the Jazz in the Western Conference standings.

And again, his numbers, outside of assists, don’t stack up with Markkanen.

Green is averaging 7.9 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 6.8 rebounds, and is viewed as the catalyst for the Warriors’ defense.

However, the Warriors’ defense has tanked this season dropping from second in the league last year to 15th this year. Similarly, the team has fallen in the standings, as they sit nine games back of first place in the West, tied with the Jazz.

Simply put, the defensive intangibles that have made Green a four-time All-Star simply haven’t been there this season.

Markkanen’s All-Star momentum

In addition to the resume he’s built, and the competition he has, recent evidence shows Markkanen is a likely favorite to be named an All-Star tonight.

The forward performed surprisingly well throughout All-Star voting among fans and even outperformed that among media members and fellow NBA players.

Markkanen received the seventh-most fan votes among Western Conference frontcourt players but finished fourth among NBA players, and fifth by the media.

Based on the combined vote from the fans, players, and media, Markkanen would safely be the second reserve chosen in the Western Conference frontcourt behind Anthony Davis, but ahead of Sabonis.

Additionally, a look around the league seems to indicate Markkanen is a lock to be chosen.

According to the seven writers at nba.com, Markkanen and Sabonis are the universal choices to earn the top reserves spots.

Similarly, all four members of the NBA on TNT crew, including Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, and Kenny Smith agreed that Markkanen should be chosen as a reserve.

Ultimately, the fact that the All-Star reserves are chosen by 30 NBA coaches means there must be room allowed for human error.

And, it is possible that just enough coaches fill out their All-Star reserve ballot based on name value alone, and not on the players’ 2022-23 resumes.

But barring one of the more cataclysmic failures by the top basketball coaches in the world, Lauri Markkanen will be chosen as an All-Star tonight.

Ben Anderson is the Utah Jazz insider for KSL Sports and the co-host of Jake and Ben from 10-12p with Jake Scott on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone. Find Ben on Twitter at @BensHoops or on Instagram @BensHoops.

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Ben Anderson: Yes, Lauri Markkanen will be an All-Star