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3 reasons Cavs must be fired up for Lauri Markkanen after dominance in FIBA World Cup Qualifiers

Cleveland Cavaliers, Lauri Markkanen

The Cleveland Cavaliers were well represented in this past week’s FIBA Basketball World Cup European Qualifiers second-round window. Current Cavs wingman Lauri Markkanen led the Finnish squad to a 76-68 victory over Estonia with 18 points on 50% shooting and nine boards.

Finland became the first European team to punch its ticket to the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 with Sunday’s win over Estonia paired with Sweden’s victory over Israel in Group J.

Finland led Sunday’s game by as many as 15 points, but Estonia drilled a three-pointer to tie the game with 9:40 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Markkanen, though, made a couple of baskets in the period to help Finland pull away, including an exclamation point dunk with 19 seconds on the clock.

The forward, who was acquired by the Cleveland Cavaliers in a three-team sign-and-trade last year, had quite a tournament averaging 21.8 points per game in four contests.

The 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup will host 32 teams in Japan, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

After seeing Markkanen’s magic on the international stage, the Cleveland Cavaliers certainly have several reasons to be fired up for the Finnish big man’s future.

3 reasons Cavs are fired up for Lauri Markkanen

3. Super scorer

Lauri Markkanen played in four crucial FIBA Basketball World Cup Qualifiers games for the Susijengi, and he was the team’s leading scorer in all four contests.

Markkanen scored 22 points against Sweden followed by 19 points against Croatia. He averaged 3.0 triples made per game in those two contests while also shooting 50 percent from the field.

In his last two games against Israel and Estonia, Markkanen continued to scorch the nets. He exploded for 28 points in 29 minutes against Israel, hitting two triples and shooting 8-of-10 from the free-throw line. He then finished Window 4 of the FIBA Basketball World Cup Qualifiers with an 18-point performance in a win over Estonia. That clinched for Finland only its second appearance in the FIBA Basketball World Cup. They first qualified for the 2014 edition in Spain.

At 7’0 tall with limbs that go for days, Markkanen was just plainly unstoppable on offense. He proved how he could score from practically anywhere on the floor, whether it was finishing strong around the basket, splashing treys, or hitting from the charity stripe.

Cavs fans hope to see that sort of scoring from Magic Markkanen when he starts at the 3-spot for Cleveland in 2022-23.

2. Defensive dynamo

On the other end of the floor, Lauri Markkanen was no slouch as well.

He may have blocked just one shot across four games. Of course, he was not expected to be Finland’s main rim protector anyway. That was 6’7 forward Elias Valtonen’s job, who despite being undersized, averaged 1.1 blocks per contest for the Susijengi.

Markkanen held his own defense in many other ways. Over the course of four FIBA Basketball World Cup Qualifiers games, he averaged 9.0 rebounds per game, with 7.3 on the defensive end. He also had a team-leading 2.3 steals per game in that stretch. This enabled the Finns to run in transition early and often.

Markkanen will likely play either forward spot for the Cavs in the coming NBA season. The team likely won’t expect him to share rim protection duties with both Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen already covering the basket. Instead, Markkanen’s long arms and agile feet will be important in shadowing opposing wings and playing the passing lanes.

Fans hope he can approximate this level of defensive dynamism in the coming season. If that happens, Cleveland could be a top-tier defensive team in the league.

1. High efficiency

Finland is the first European team to qualify for next year’s FIBA Basketball World Cup. Finnish basketball has never done that before. When they qualified in 2014, they did so as a wild card, but now they’re among the bona fide elite in European basketball.

Markkanen deserves much of the credit, of course. He carried their national team to success in the most recent window. The 25-year-old was a picture of pure efficiency. He had near double-double numbers coupled with decent shooting splits (47-33-77) and very few turnovers. In fact, over his four FIBA Basketball World Cup Qualifiers matches, Markkanen averaged just 1.3 turnovers. That’s a very low number for players who average at least 20 minutes of play per game.

When the dust settled, Markkanen recorded an efficiency-per-game value of 23.5 for Finland. That led the national team and was just second to Luka Doncic (26.5) across all of Europe.

Markkanen’s most efficient performance was against the Swedes. He had a 22-point, 11-rebound double-double to go along with 4 assists, 4 steals, and 2 triples.

He definitely won’t average those numbers for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but if he can play efficiently on both ends of the floor, then he stands to be among the team’s breakout performers in the 2022-23 season.

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