The Cleveland Cavaliers’ surprising 3-2 start has the team’s head coach J.B. Bickerstaff offering the highest praise to newcomer Lauri Markkanen.
While Bickerstaff also noted the contributions of Jarrett Allen and rookie Evan Mobley, the coach raved about Markkanen’s performance in Wednesday night’s 92-79 road win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
“Evan and Jarrett, I think coming into the year we knew what to expect,” Bickerstaff said. “The biggest shout out has to go to Lauri Markkanen. He’s playing a position that he hasn’t naturally played growing up or coming up. He’s guarding people that he typically hasn’t had to guard. I thought he did a great job tonight defensively containing the ball and executing our coverages and schemes. It’s different for him. I think it has impacted his shot a little bit because he’s doing some different things defensively. But the effort that he’s putting in, if he continues to do that his shots are gonna fall. He’s the reason why it works. His willingness to do that and sacrifice some comfort. He’s the reason why we’ve been able to get away with it so far and why it’s been able to work.”
The 24-year-old Markkanen was acquired in the three-team deal that sent Larry Nance Jr. to the Portland Trail Blazers, with the Cavs hoping to tap into Markkanen’s potential.
In four seasons with the Bulls, Markkanen averaged 15.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game. While his rebound and assist averages have remained the same, his scoring has dropped off somewhat (a 10.8 average per game) in the Cavaliers’ first five games.
Yet, Bickerstaff is clearly impressed with what Markkanen has been able to do thus far and is hoping that his new player can keep up the pace.
Markkanen and the Cavaliers will have a stiff challenge on Friday night, when they face the Los Angeles Lakers.