SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Growing up in Finland, Lauri Markkanen loved watching the NBA All-Star Game on television but never imagined he’d be a part of it. Even watching the selection show on TNT with his family Thursday night, Markkanen wondered if he’d get an invitation.
“It was a nerve-racking experience,” Markannen said about having his name read next to last. “But everything worked out and I’m extremely happy.”
Markkanen, a 7-foot forward, was named a first-time All-Star as a reserve for the game in Salt Lake City on Feb. 19.
When the Jazz traded cornerstones Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert before the season, Markkanen arrived from Cleveland as somewhat of an enigma. But it didn’t take long for him to become Utah’s number one option.
Markkanen is averaging career highs of 24.9 points and 8.7 rebounds.
“This wouldn’t happen without them,” Markkanen said about his teammates, coaches and staff. “I just got a chance to talk to everybody and thank them individually for all the hours they put in with me.”
The Jazz are 27-26 and in the thick of the playoff race. Much of the credit goes to Markkanen’.
“None of us are hoping. We are all expecting Lauri to be an All-Star,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said ahead of the announcement.
Rookie teammate Walker Kessler has been his unofficial campaign manager and rarely misses an opportunity to tout Lauri’s accomplishments or hand out sweatshirts that have his image with ‘THE FINNISHER’ emblazoned on it.
“The way he plays and the way he affects winning is just unbelievable — his efficiency and just how good he is at everything. He’s extremely physical and wants to win above everything,” Kessler said.
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