Cleveland Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff has a big starting lineup decision to make for the season opener against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night. It looks like Bickerstaff will literally be going big.
Chris Fedor of cleveland.com says signs are pointing toward Bickerstaff going with Lauri Markkanen over Isaac Okoro at small forward. The rest of the starting lineup will feature Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, though there were also apparently discussions about starting Okoro instead of Sexton.
The Cavs experimented with the big lineup in the preseason and had modest success. Cleveland has a rather wonky roster to begin with, so Bickerstaff seems ready to go unconventional:
Acquired from Chicago in a three-team trade that cost Larry Nance Jr., Markkanen was one of Cleveland’s most effective players in the preseason. Bickerstaff, who said he was committed to playing his best players regardless of position, experimented with Markkanen at small forward in a versatile, jumbo lineup for a reason. There’s a recognition that wing is the team’s weak point and after exhausting all of their options in free agency and trades, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Bickerstaff taking an unconventional route, leaning on traits and skills in what’s become a positionless game. It’s not like there’s a clear-cut better choice.
There are concerns about Okoro’s shooting in that starting lineup, so the Cavs like the idea of getting Markkanen’s stellar outside stroke in there instead. While there are defensive concerns and Markkanen hasn’t played that much small forward in his career (the Bulls tried it some without much success), Bickerstaff is focused on getting his best players on the court as much as possible.
Cleveland is hoping to make a leap this season after all of the struggles in the second post-LeBron James era. It seems they’re going to try to go about it in quite the interesting way.