3. Brooklyn continues to struggle against size at the 4
Lauri Markkanen torched the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night, hitting 11-of-18 shots, including 4-of-7 from 3-point range, to go with 18 rebounds and two blocked shots for the Chicago Bulls.
To be fair, Markkanen has been torching pretty much everybody of late.
Friday’s outing was Markannen’s third straight game with at least 30 points — certainly not James Harden-esque, but still impressive.
Over that span, Markkanen has shot 58 percent overall, made 45.5 percent on 7.3 deep attempts per game and also averaged 12.3 rebounds a night.
The second-year forward is 7-feet and 240 pounds with ball-handling and shooting skills more like a guard than a big man.
Markkanen missed Chicago’s first 23 games with an elbow injury, but has settled in to average 18.3 points and 8.4 rebounds in 32.1 minutes per game and after a slow start, his shooting percentages are up to 44.1 percent overall and 39.3 percent on 6.6 3-point tries a game.
For the Nets, players such as Markkanen and others around the NBA — oversized 4s who can shoot and handle — cause particular problems because Brooklyn simply does not have the size to counter.
The Nets have used a series of converted small forwards to man the 4 spot this season, starting the season with veteran Jared Dudley there, then switching to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. When RHJ was injured in late December, coach Kenny Atkinson went back to Dudley.
When Dudley pulled a hamstring on Jan. 9, it’s been 6-foot-5 Treveon Graham manning the 4 with the starting unit, going from small — Dudley and Hollis-Jefferson are both 6-foot-7 — to smaller.
Dudley is a savvy defender, but not a particularly good one. RHJ and Graham are both outstanding, versatile players on defense, but when giving up four or five inches to a player with shooting touch and ball skills, it’s a matchup the Nets can’t possibly win.
That will be a concern moving forward, as the Nets will still have to contend with big, skilled 4s such as Pascal Siakam, Paul George, LeBron James, Tobias Harris, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Thaddeus Young down the stretch.
Brooklyn wasn’t able to add a stretch big at the deadline and it’s unclear what the buyout market for that skill set will look like.
But that matchup issue has been there for the Nets all season and as Markkanen displayed again on Friday, it’s not going away with Brooklyn’s current personnel.