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Lauri Markkanen is the Key to the Cavaliers’ Oversized Lineup

Adding Lauri Markkanen to the Cavs’ frontcourt-heavy roster in the offseason raised some eyebrows, but now their chemistry is turning heads.

Lauri Markkanen mutually agreed to part ways with Chicago in the offseason, despite a relatively promising four seasons. And at the young age of 24, Lauri still holstered immense potential for improvement. However, the Finland native received minimal interest in free agency. Then, after sitting on the market for quite a while, the Cleveland Cavaliers acquired Markkanen via sign-and-trade. The decision surprised many because the Cavs, not even a month beforehand, extended Jarrett Allen and drafted Evan Mobley.

In an era when most teams switched to small-ball, Cleveland did the exact opposite. Today, many teams carry only a couple of centers. Cleveland, on the other hand, arguably starts three of them. On paper, the lineup appeared questionable, but it’s worked like a charm in-game. Why this lineup works could be attributed to Allen’s above-the-rim dominance and or Mobley’s marvelous rookie campaign. However, Cavs’ head coach JB Bickerstaff believes the most significant difference maker is Lauri Markkanen.

“Us being unique and different is because of him,” Coach Bickerstaff said. “We can’t play the type of basketball that we play without Lauri.”

“The Cherry On Top”

Throughout his career, Markkanen’s offensive input generally outweighed his defensive. And yet, Coach Bickerstaff described his shot-making capabilities as “the cherry on top.” Recently, though, that so-called ‘cherry’ made the difference between Cavaliers’ wins and losses. Specifically, Lauri dropped a season-high 28 points in his Chicago homecoming on very efficient shooting. Moreover, Markkanen’s shooting 41.4% from deep over the past ten games, which is 8% higher than his season average.

With two paint presences like Allen and Mobley, the perimeter is often left for the taking. That said, as a team, Cleveland is very mediocre at three-point shooting. Therefore, Lauri Markkanen needs to keep his percentage from deep high for the Cavs’ offense to run smoothly.  

“We want him to be aggressive; we want him to take his shots,” Coach Bickerstaff said. “If we continue to add his firepower on that end, it gives us a chance to be very dynamic offensively.”

New Position, No Problem

Standing in at 6’11”, Markkanen is a bonified big man by no stretch of the imagination. Or so we thought. On the Cavaliers, Lauri Markkanen switched from a power-forward to a small-forward. While this change seems menial, it requires an entirely different set of defensive responsibilities. The most significant difference comes with pick-and-roll coverages, especially since modern NBA is so fixated on them.

Despite little time to make such a drastic conversion, Lauri’s held his own at the new position. Nonetheless, while the media stresses his offense, Bickerstaff and Markkanen continue focusing on the other end of the court. So much so, after his best scoring night of the season, Lauri proclaimed his eagerness to be better. 

“I think I could’ve done a better job on the defensive end tonight,” Markkanen said. “I’m trying to learn every practice and every game.” 

Given time, his comfortability and understanding of the new role will develop into a difficult matchup for other teams. Sure, they might get the first step on him, but Allen and Mobley will have his back and deny any shot in their vicinity. All in all, this Cavalier team operates as a whole group, with no individual standing out more than the rest. However, Lauri Markkanen provides this team with unparalleled skillsets that set this team apart from the field.

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