In the modern NBA, position-less basketball and small ball schemes have been the go-to trends for many teams to follow nowadays. However, the rebuilding Cleveland Cavaliers recently rolled the dice and tried experimenting with three bigs in their starting lineup. To everyone’s surprise, it has been working well for J.B. Bickerstaff and the Cavs through 11 games played in the 2021-22 season.
The Cavs currently use Jarrett Allen as their starting center while Evan Mobley and Lauri Markkanen fill the power forward and small forward positions, respectively. Certainly enough, the trio possesses insane length that can alter many shots though they are currently being challenged to improve their versatility on the floor. Allen, known by many as an elite shot-blocker in the paint, has already proved that he can switch and defend shiftier forwards on the floor.
Meanwhile, Mobley is also managing to make an impact on the defensive end as he currently leads the league with a total of 159 contested shots followed by Allen with 118. The highly-touted rookie is also ranking first in terms of contested shots per game with 15.1 and total contested three-pointers with 49, per Cavs Notes.
The defensive ability of the third guy in Markkanen has raised some eyebrows as he is more used to playing the PF position as compared to being an SF dating back to his days with the Chicago Bulls. Surprisingly, the Finnish national is turning some heads in his ability to take on opposing wings and limit the production of marquee stars like LeBron James and Paul George through their first few games.
As a unit, the three big men are currently posting a 99.0 defensive rating through eight games played together, per NBA stats. As a team, the Cavs have garnered a defensive rating of 106.4 which ranks 13th in the league as of the moment.
On offense, it is a no-brainer to think that the team can easily convert shots in the paint, especially with the insane length that they have in the frontcourt. True enough, Allen has been one of the most efficient scorers in the league with a 69.8% shooting from the field while Mobley is also doing well with a 56.4% mark, per Basketball-Reference.
Both of them are utilizing their abilities to finish pick-and-roll plays while also maximizing their athleticism to get easy dunks at the rim. Though the two front liners are having a great start to the season, not the same can be said about Markkanen who has fairly struggled with his shot as of late.
By playing the SF position, the 24-year-old has to establish himself as a threat from beyond the arc. Unfortunately, he has gone cold as he is currently shooting 28% from long range, making just 14 out of 50 total attempts to start the season, per ESPN. With that, the trio is currently posting a 96.6 offensive rating while the entire team is garnering a 105.4 mark which currently ranks 18th in the league.
Certainly enough, the stats being posted by the trio of Allen, Mobley, and Markkanen can still increase as their chemistry continues to improve through the course of the season. So far, there has been a significant change in the Cavs’ outlook for this season, especially by having experienced veterans and promising young talents on their roster.
Additionally, Bickerstaff’s squad has been finding a way to get wins as they recently dominated the New York Knicks with a 126-109 victory. Their latest win powered the Cavs to a 7-4 record to nab the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference early in the season.
Ultimately, it can’t be denied that the intriguing three-big lineup of the Cavs has caught many by surprise. As much as a shocker that it has been, Cleveland’s new dynamic is also serving as a welcome change to the modern NBA where big men are often being overshadowed by flashier backcourt players. Its success, however, can only be proven once the team gets to accomplish significant things together and eventually transform into a playoff-contending squad moving forward.