Former Chicago Bulls lottery pick Lauri Markkanen has helped the Cleveland Cavaliers improve dramatically over where they were during the 2020-21 NBA season. The Cavs won 22 times in 72 tries last season. Thanks in part to the addition of Markkanen and rookie Evan Mobley, through 41 contests this year, they have already won 23 times.
However, Markkanen still showing what Cavs writer Rick Noland of the Medina County Gazette described as “some disturbing signs” that influenced the Bulls to move him via sign-and-trade in the offseason. According to Noland, Bulls media warned him he would grow to “despise” Markkanen’s game. Based on his tweet, he’s not quite there yet, but he’s beginning to understand the concept.
Markkanen helps the Cavs form a wall of 7-footers on defense and a team that should be able to have their way in the post with him, Mobley and Jarrett Allen. However, Markkanen isn’t always capable of delivering what is expected of him on both ends of the floor.
One of the things that has plagued Markkanen over the course of his career is his inconsistency–especially as a shooter. After shooting 36% from three-point range during his first two seasons in the NBA, Markkanen dipped to 34% in 2019-20 before shooting 40% last season.
This year for the Cavs, Markkanen is shooting a career-worst 30% from beyond the arc. One of the ways the Cavs’ big-man lineup needs to function is with Markkanen’s ability to stretch the floor. He needs to convert on more of his open looks to make the offense effecitve.
Markkanen made just 27.5% of his threes in December and so far in January, he’s just slightly improved at 32%. Beyond the shooting, Markkanen continues to struggle with his lack of physicality on offense and defense.
Watch him in this clip getting bullied by the smaller Andrew Wiggins in the post.
Markkanen has just 21 field goal attempts from the post this season. He’s made 14 of them, but there still seems to be a reluctance to take and finish in these situations. Essentially, Markkanen is still playing smaller than his 7-foot frame suggests he should play.
Accepting Markkanen For Who He Is
At this point in Markkanen’s career, he’s likely one of those players who has to be accepted for who he is on the floor. He’ll never be a physical big who has an inside-outside game. He’s best as a stretch-4 who plays alongside a rim-running big, ball-dominant point or wing who facilitates for teammates more than he looks to score.
Markkanen is still a player with above-average shooting potential, but he needs to play with the kind of player who regularly generates open looks for him because of pick-and-pop efficiency or dribble penetration.
Markkanen would be having an excellent season offensively with Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan. However, his defensive issues would be even more glaring than in past years because the Bulls are defending better as a team.
At some point, Markkanen may find himself in the right role where his specific skill set can be best utilized.
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