NBA teams typically run a two guard, two forward and one center lineup. Occasionally, teams will institute a three guard lineup if the guards have enough size and defensive versatility to switch pick and rolls.
In 2021, the Cavs decided to go against the norm and institute a starting lineup that consists of three near 7’0 tall athletes. The five-man starting rotation consisting of Darius Garland (6’1), Issac Okoro (6’5), Lauri Markkanen (7’0), Evan Mobley (6’11) and Jarrett Allen (6’10) has an average height of 6’8, or 80 inches, which is right at the league average.
However, the difference between the Cavs and the rest of the league is the Cavs have three players in the starting lineup that are listed at 6’10 or taller (Markkanen, Mobley and Allen). No other team in the NBA can claim fame on that statistic.
For a lineup that to a casual viewer or reader would feel like it came straight out of the NBA2K video game franchise, it’s working for JB Bickerstaff and the rest of the Cavs crew. When Markkanen, Mobley and Allen all start together in a game this season, the Cavs are 9-6 as of Dec. 9. When they are not on the floor together, the team has a 5-6 record.
With a big lineup, teams thought they could expose the Cavs by using the quickness of their guards to drive past the Cavs length, but that has not been an issue for the Wine and Golders. As of Dec. 9, the Cavs are ranked No. 4 in the league in defensive efficiency, only trailing the Warriors, Suns and Clippers.
To go along with the “Big Three”, the 6’8" Kevin Love and the 6’9" Dean Wade add an ability for the team to not miss a beat when one of the starters has to take a breather. The ability to play a combination of all five players has given Bickerstaff and his staff plenty of options, and it allows the Cavs to not have a full bench unit. Instead of a full rotation off the bench, the Cavs constantly substitute one or two players at a time, keeping everybody fresh and involved in the game.
Sometimes, going the unconventional route is the correct approach. The expectations for the Cavs have risen due to their success early on in the season. They wouldn’t be in the position they are today without their unconventional starting lineup.
For the Cavs so far this season, the risk has been worth the reward.
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