Young Big Man Lauri Marrkanen Looks to Make His Mark With the Wine & Gold
In two weeks, Cavaliers Training Camp tips off. And as always, Camp tips off with Media Day – when … yes … the media gather at Cleveland Clinic Courts in Independence to meet with players and coaches.
The last time media were able to get near the guys was March 10, 2020 – after a road loss in Chicago.
Delly and Andre Drummond were in the starting lineup. Dante Exum, Tristan Thompson and Kevin Porter Jr. were all out. Larry Nance Jr. hit all six shot attempts in 32 minutes off the bench.
For the victorious Bulls, Lauri Markkanen finished with 15 points and four boards, drilling three triples in the win.
All of the names above have changed addresses – the latter to (the west side of) Cleveland – and for the first time since that March night in the Windy City, the people who cover the team will get their first opportunity to meet much of that team (and bring their stories to fans).
When some of the media spoke with Lauri Markkanen virtually from Independence last week – not long after his arrival in Cleveland and after just two workouts – he still hadn’t quite committed Cleveland’s coaching staff to memory. But he laughed about getting a loud-and-clear first message from one of them.
”First thing when I walked in the building, the coach said, ‘We have one rule: Shoot the ball,'” Markkanen said with a smile. “So, I’m looking forward to that.”
The Cavaliers struggled mightily from beyond the arc last year, finishing in the bottom third of the league in three-pointers attempted and made as well as percentage. Enter Markkanen, who drilled a career-best 40 percent from long-range last year. (Along with a career-high 48 percent from the floor overall.)
”You always work on your game, every day,” said Markkanen, of his improved shooting. “So, last offseason was a little bit longer, we didn’t start until December. While it was tough being out and not being able to play basketball, it allowed me to work on my game. I think I got my jumpshot improved and I can still improve a lot.
”Like I’ve said before: I think my best basketball is ahead of me. But I was happy to see the progress after we’d worked on it so much. And I was happy to see the results of it, too.”
Still just 24 years old, Markkanen was the 7th overall pick back in 2017 by the Timberwolves before being traded to Chicago on Draft night (along with Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine) in exchange for Jimmy Butler and Justin Patton. The Vantaa, Finland native was named to the NBA’s All-Rookie First Team one year after his All-Pac 12 performance at Arizona.
He was acquired by the Wine & Gold in a three-team deal in late August in what was not an easy move for Cleveland – sending native son, Larry Nance Jr. to Portland, with Chicago receiving Derrick Jones Jr. and lottery-protected first rounder in 2022.
"I’m looking forward to spending more time with those guys and getting to know them. I’ve got a really good feeling about this team and this organization."
After spending his first four years in Chicago, Markkanen is currently adjusting to his new teammates with the season just five weeks away.
”I didn’t necessarily know anyone on this team on a personal level, but what I’ve gotten to know of these guys in two days, I know it’s a good group of guys, down-to-earth guys that are nice to be around,” said Markkanen. “So, I’m looking forward to spending more time with those guys and getting to know them. I’ve got a really good feeling about this team and this organization.”
Markkanen started 169 of his first 170 career contests before finding himself in a lineup squeeze after the Trade Deadline last season.
In his first 26 appearances with Chicago, he started 25 of them. But the emergence of Patrick Williams – last year’s No. 4 overall pick out of FSU – and midseason trades for Nikola Vucevic and Daniel Theis squeezed him into a reserve role.
Even accounting for his uneven minutes, Markkanen posted eight games of at least 20 points and a pair of 30-point outings. The three-time Finnish Player of the Year – who’s posted 14 career games of 30-plus – has also had some nice nights against the Wine & Gold. In 12 head-to-head meetings against Cleveland, he’s notched double figures in all 12, with games of 25 and 31 points in the mix.
Now, Coach J.B. Bickerstaff wants him to bring that same juice to the team he’s occasionally tormented.
”(Bickerstaff) wants me to be me and play the game the way I know how to play it,” said Markkanen. “I know what I can do on the court, and he’s seen that, too. He wants me to be aggressive and play freely, make the right basketball play. We have a really consistent group of guys and everybody shows up. And I think that’s what’s expected: Come in every day and work. And I think things will click.”
Markkanen’s best season was his sophomore campaign, averaging 18.7 points and 9.0 boards in 51 starts.
In 221 career appearances, he’s averaged 15.6 points, shooting 44 percent from the floor and 37 percent from deep, to go with 7.1 boards and 1.2 assists per. Through his four years in the league, he’s never made less than 109 three-pointers.
The 7-0, 240-pounder – who doesn’t turn 25 until late May – is also an excellent free throw shooter, connecting on a career .845 from the stripe.
”Obviously, I’m seven-feet tall, but I can do a lot of stuff,” said Markkanen. “I’m not strictly a post-up guy, I’m not strictly a three-point shooter. I’ve been shooting more threes now, but I can do a lot more stuff – put the ball on the floor, create for others from there.
”So that’s what I’m looking forward to doing – be active on both ends of the floor. I’ve always been a guy who tries to make the right basketball play and that’s what I’m going to keep doing.”