Last month, the Cleveland Cavaliers acquired seven-foot Finnish big Lauri Markkanen from the Chicago Bulls in sign-and-trade, part of three-way deal that sent Larry Nance Jr. to the Portland Trail Blazers.
For a team that notoriously overextends on contract deals, the trade raised some eyebrows. Markkanen, who will collect $67 million over the next four years on the Cavs, missed 21 games last season with a hodgepodge of ankle, calf, shoulder injuries and COVID health protocols. The 2017 seventh pick out of Arizona is a downgrade from Nance on the defensive end, but the Cavs are hopeful they’ve invested in a young big who can score. But can he?
Turning in career-lows in points per game (13.6) and rebounds (5.3), Markkanen wasn’t a huge contributor for the Bulls last season. Starting in December as the Bull’s second scoring option behind Zach LaVine, Markkanen slowly moved out of rotation, becoming one of the team’s last options coming off the bench.
Markkanen was, however, efficient with the ball —shooting a satisfactory 48% from the floor and 40% from three. He excels from the corner, where shoots 52% and ranks in the 93rd percentile relative to his position, according to Cleaning the Glass.
Back in 2018, Markkanen was able to tally 100 threes in just 41 games — the the fastest NBA player to achieve such a feat. He completed the task in 17 fewer games than 3-point assassin, Stephen Curry.
Lauri Markkanen hit 100 3-pt FG faster than anyone in NBA history. How does he stack up against other notable players? pic.twitter.com/vUyb7zsHmN— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 15, 2018
Starting Markkanen alongside Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro and Jarrett Allen is intriguing considering the recent and debilitating lack of contribution from Cedi Osman and Kevin Love. Markkanen has the ability to space the floor, opening a variety of possibilities for the Cavs, who desperately need a reliable scoring option at the perimeter.
Back in January, Markkanen turned in his best game of the season dropping 31 points including 6 threes, 6 rebounds and 1 block against the Portland Trail Blazers. Check out the highlights:
As buyout options evaporated for Kevin Love this off season, Altman took a gamble with the hopes that a healthy Markkanen can provide meaningful minutes to the Cavs’ young core. For a team that boasts defense as a primary advantage, the Cavs may have taken a step back by extending such a large contract to a player yet to prove his worth or secure his identity. If, however, Markkanen avoids being sidelined with injuries, he’s an instant upgrade at the Small Forward position and should provide the team with enhanced offensive schemes and more fluid scoring options.