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Fit in or fit out: The Lauri Markkanen question

With the biggest swing in the Koby Altman era comes two alternate realities that Markkanen’s fit influences mightily.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Chicago Bulls Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Like most Cavs’ fans, when I heard the news of the Lauri Markkanen trade, emotions were swirling. There was some confusion and sadness and seeing Larry Nance Jr. go, only to be followed up by confusion and doubt for the arrival of Lauri Markkanen. That’s nothing against Markkanen as a person, as I’m sure that he’s great, but replacing Nance is a tall task for any player to accomplish.

For weeks, we have also been hearing and talking about how the Cavs have a desperate need to find a wing before the season tips off. Since the wing market has essentially dried up as of late, the only possible way the Cavs can find a viable option would be via trade. Everyone knew that the Cavs’ trade chips were essentially Nance and their 2022 first-round pick. So when the Cavs traded Nance in a three-team deal to get another four in return, you could say that sucked a lot of air out of the room.

As I was writing this article I found myself unable to determine which side of the trade I stand on. Therefore, I felt it was best to articulate the two sides of the coin that this Markkanen trade offers the Cavaliers for this upcoming season. In the words of LeBron James: Lauri Markannen will either “fit in or fit out” with this Cavaliers’ squad.

FIT IN

Markannen’s best attribute is his three-point shooting. That is the main reason I believe that Cleveland was so anxious to get their hands on him. It is well-known that the Cavs’ biggest weakness offensively is that no one outside of Cedi Osman is willing to let it fly from behind the arc. Markkanen has never had that issue either. Through his first four years in Chicago, Markkanen has shot around six threes a game with 36.7% efficiency. In this past season for the Bulls, he shot 40% which was a career-best. That alone would help this Cavs’ offense.

Where Markkanen especially excels is in his corner threes. Last season Markkanen shot 54% from corner threes according to Statmuse. I can already see Garland and Rubio loving to have that option available to them when they slash to the basket. Life was too easy for opposing defenses when they knew they could crash in towards the basket because they wouldn’t be punished from three.

Lauri Markkanen shot chart 2020-2021 season.
Statmuse

The way I see the Markkanen signing is similar to the Atlanta Hawks and their deal with Danilo Gallinari. Gallinari last season for the Hawks was a key scorer in a sixth man type role for the Hawks this past regular season and postseason. While Gallinari is more of a three-level scorer and more proven than Lauri, I would say this is how Cavs’ brass views Lauri’s role this upcoming year. Bench scoring in today’s league is crucial and, assuming he doesn’t start, he can score.

FIT OUT

Every fan that likes the trade is excited at the idea of running out lineups that include three seven-footers on the floor at once. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the Bulls did try that idea of Lauri at the three, and to say it didn’t go well would be an understatement. Markkanen lacks lateral quickness which leads him to be burned quite easily by wings and guards alike. Not to mention Lauri in general is a below-average defender due to his lack of quickness and slender frame. Offensively, Lauri would fail to also take advantage of having smaller threes guard him. It looks like Lauri almost admits defeat on those switches and would rather be a bystander rather than an initiator.

The equation of subtracting Nance, who was arguably the Cavaliers’ best defender last season, and then adding Lauri’s offense, will change the identity of the team this upcoming season. The Cavaliers before the trade had a Knicks-style gameplan through J.B Bickerstaff to aggravate opponents and grind out wins. Now with the team possessing Lauri in his place, one would have to assume that the team wants a more offensive focused gameplan.

If Kevin Love remains on this roster, there is no world where you can have the two of them playing together and expecting any sort of paint protection. We will constantly need to have either Evan Mobley or Jarrett Allen on the floor with Lauri at all times. Lauri is also known to shy away from contested rebounds which decreases his value as a four or five on the floor.

Nance, it’s worth noting, has had a history lately of being a player who struggled to stay on the court. One would assume that factored into him being dealt away as well. However, Lauri Markkanen gets injured almost as much as Nance has in the past. Larry over his past four seasons has missed 77 games of 301 (25%). Lauri Markkanen has missed 80 games in that same span which has him at 26%.

With this trade, Cavaliers are taking their first true gamble in the Koby Altman era. When looking back on some of Altman’s “big swings” they often required minimal assets (if you can even call them that). Drummond and Allen required second round picks and players like Dante Exum, Brandon Knight and John Henson. None of these players I mentioned were going to make a meaningful impact to any roster they were sent to. Larry Nance Jr. going back to the previous trade deadline was considered to be an impactful player. Teams were offering impressive trade packages in return for Nance’s services. Therefore, this is the first asset Koby Altman parted with in an educated gamble to hopefully improve the roster.

It feels like this move relies on three different factors: Markkanen’s development, his fit in the offense, and his defensive effort. In a few years, fans could look back at this trade and think that Cleveland got a steal on a player mishandled in Chicago. On the other hand, fans could look back and draw comparisons to when the Cavs traded for Luol Deng back in 2013 and that move fell flat. As for now, Altman better hope that this particular dice roll doesn’t playing a part in ending his run in Cleveland.