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What we learned about the Cleveland Cavaliers this week: Dec. 27 - Jan. 2

Kevin Love is playing some of the best basketball of his career when the Cavs need it most.

Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

2021 had to deliver one last blow to the Cleveland Cavaliers on its way out. Ricky Rubio was instrumental in this most recent renaissance and it’s hard to envision someone replacing his production unless a major move is made by Koby Altman and company.

Here’s what we learned from a season altering week.

Lauri Markkanen’s shot is in a bad place.

One of the knocks on Markkanen in Chicago was that he was wildly inconsistent. The Cavs are finding out just how frustrating those inconsistent stretches can be.

Markkanen didn’t shoot well in December, but things took a turn for the worse over the last handful of games as the calendar turned. He averaged 11.6 points on 39.4% shooting from the field and 18.6% shooting from distance in his last nine games. Not getting consistent production from one of the few remaining rotation pieces due to health and safety protocols has really hurt the Cavs chances over the last week.

Outside shooting is Markkanen’s best, and arguably only, above average offensive skill. He struggles to beat defenders off the dribble, isn’t a plus passer and can’t consistently finish in the post even when he has a height advantage.

Markkanen’s been better than advertised on the defensive end. He does a good job of using his size to disrupt offensive flow and slides in nicely alongside the oversized frontcourt of Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. That said, he’s certainly not a plus defender and isn’t in the starting lineup because of his defensive contributions.

He looks like a great fit with the starting lineup when his shot is falling like it did in November. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have other plus skills to fall back on when he goes into one of these prolonged shooting slumps which exaggerates how poorly he is playing.

Evan Mobley is an alien.

Mobley set the internet on fire with his left-handed reverse layup against the Washington Wizards. It’s hard to imagine someone being that big with the athleticism and grace to complete this move while simultaneously making it look effortless.

There was also this dunk on Myles Turner from a stationary position on Sunday night. This should also be filed under things we don’t see everyday.

As good as the rookie has been, it feels like he is just scratching the surface of his offensive potential. His midrange and three-point shot have been inconsistent and he’s at times relied on others to set him up too much.

Mobley has shown that he can create for himself when he has to since Rubio left the lineup. 65.5% of Mobley’s made field goals in the last three games were unassisted compared to the 36.2% on the season. Trying to create his own offense is necessitated by the lack of reliable guard play, but it’s nice to see that he can and is quite capable at creating for himself.

The rookie’s unworldly defensive versatility and ability to finish at the rim through traffic are why he’s been one of the Cavs best players all season. His last week of play and the two highlights above give glimpses of what kind of scorer the 20 year-old could become when his offensive game develops more.

Kevin Love might’ve had his best month of basketball.

It’s difficult to put into words how surprising Love’s season has been. It’s even more difficult to describe how absurd he was in December.

Love finished the month averaging 17.9 points and 7.5 rebounds on .491/.491/.885 shooting splits in just 21.9 minutes. Those shooting numbers are good for an outrageous 66.8 effective field goal percentage and a 71.6 true shooting percentage which are both career highs for a month. To put that in perspective, his second most efficient scoring month of his career was December 2017 where he finished with a 59.2 effective field goal percentage and .485/.462/.862 shooting splits. December 2021 was his best shooting month as a pro by an overwhelming margin.

Love’s scoring volume per minute has been some of the best we’ve seen during his career. Per 36 numbers are misleading but can be useful in the right context. If the Cavs felt Love could play more minutes at his current production he would be. With that disclaimer out of the way, Love averaged 29.5 points and 12.3 rebounds per 36 minutes in December. That is his highest scoring output by that metric since February 2014 where he averaged 33.2 points per 36 minutes. Furthermore, Love is averaging 24.5 points per 36 minutes on the season which is the second highest per 36 scoring output in his career.

Playing less minutes and in shorter spurts has allowed Love to go all out for a shorter periods of time. It’s also given him the freedom to play aggressively which has always led to the best version of himself.

We’ve gotten the bite size version of Minnesota Kevin Love this season. His resurgence and ability to provide scoring with the second unit is one of the many reasons the Cavs are outperforming expectations.

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