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2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft

The Basketball Insiders team takes turns drafting for various markets in a group mock draft.

Joel Brigham

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Every summer, the Basketball Insiders team calls dibs on their home markets and goes through the draft one pick at a time to get a sense of how the first round of the draft may actually play out. This mock is different in that it represents many ideas and many voices instead of just the thoughts of a lone individual trying to think for all 30 teams. The actual draft is this Thursday, but this should help hold readers over until then. Enjoy!

1. With the 1st pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers select Markelle Fultz, a point guard from the University of Washington.

“The Sixers address their biggest area of need with the best player available. Adding Fultz gives them a legitimate scoring guard who can play off the ball, pairing perfectly with 6-foot-10 point guard Ben Simmons.” – Dennis Chambers

2. With the 2nd pick in the pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the L.A. Lakers select Lonzo Ball, a point guard from UCLA.

“Lonzo potentially represents what the Lakers have been desperate for: a star that fans get excited for, makes the team better and returns the Lakers to past glory. Magic 2.0? Great vision, good feel for the game and outstanding passing help Lonzo stand out. Substantive criticisms of his game include an unorthodox jump shot, average defense and, so far at least, an unwillingness or inability to get to the rim, but for now he’s the Lakers’ best bet at pick number two.” – James Blancarte

3. With the 3rd pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Boston Celtics select Josh Jackson, a forward from the University of Kansas.

“The Celtics made the trade to get the guy that most embodies the Celtics’ DNA. He’s tough. He is gritty. He is a good team guy and he has exactly the kinds of tools the Celtics gravitate toward. In time, he could be one of the brightest of the bunch, but from day one he fits a team that almost won the East.” – Steve Kyler

4. With the 4th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Phoenix Suns select De’Aaron Fox, a point guard from the University of Kentucky.

“The Phoenix Suns have had multiple starting-caliber point guards in recent seasons but are still in search of their point guard of the future. De’Aaron Fox has a nice combination of length, skill, athleticism and upside. He may not have all of the tools that Markelle Fultz has or the hype of Lonzo Ball, but he is a talented prospect who could develop into the Suns’ franchise point guard. However, he needs to work on his jumper and grow into his frame sooner rather than later if he is to have any real impact in his first few seasons in the league.” – Jesse Blancarte

5. With the 5th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Sacramento Kings select Malik Monk, a guard from the University of Kentucky.

“Once upon a time, Eric Bledsoe lived in the shadow of John Wall, the first overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. Bledsoe went 18th to OKC, and joined Avery Bradley as the only players picked in the second half of 2010’s first round that remain significant rotation players. Like Bledsoe, Malik Monk had to sacrifice to play a role complementary to a more highly-touted guard prospect. Like Bledsoe, the NBA will give Monk the platform to emerge from that shadow.” – Buddy Grizzard

6. With the 6th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Orlando Magic select Dennis Smith, a guard from North Carolina State University.

“New Orlando Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman said recently that the team will be looking to draft the best available player on Thursday night, rather than draft based on need. If Smith is available, he could check both boxes for the Magic. Smith could be the best player available for the Magic when they make their first of four selections on draft night and he figures to be able to immediately come in and give the team a boost at the point guard position. The team has sorely lacked an offensive-minded point guard and Smith could be that guy for the Magic.” – Cody Taylor

7. With the 7th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves select Frank Ntilikina, a point guard from Strasbourg, France.

“I’ve got the first reach! Because they really already have loads of talent, the Minnesota Timberwolves in my opinion will trade this pick if they can. But if they keep the pick, there’s no immediate need for polished talent with an up-and-coming roster like theirs. With Ricky Rubio’s difficultly fitting into Tom Thibedoau’s system and Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones still learning the ropes, the organization takes a stab at correcting the point guard position with Frank Ntkilina.” – Spencer Davies

8. With the 8th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the New York Knicks select Jayson Tatum, a forward from Duke University.

“I certainly did not expect Jayson Tatum to be on the board at No. 8. As a result, this was an extremely easy choice. The worst-kept secret in New York is that Phil Jackson and the Knicks desperately want to trade Carmelo Anthony. In Tatum, they get a player that many pundits agree is the closest facsimile to Melo in the 2017 draft. Tatum, like Melo, is 6-foot-8 and is known for his polished offensive game. Like Anthony, he excels in isolation due to his array of moves and rare combination of size, strength and skill. His defense needs work, but he has the physical attributes to be a plus-defender. New York can search for its point guard of the future in free agency or in subsequent drafts because with Tatum in tow, the Knicks now have two solid foundation pieces they can build around. Today, Phil and company celebrate Tatum landing in their lap. Tomorrow they go point guard hunting.” – Tommy Beer

9. With the 9th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Dallas Mavericks select Lauri Markkanen, a forward from the University of Arizona.

“Markkanen is a great shooter. He’s long and at 7-feet tall he can get up and shoot over almost anyone. He’ll make for a nice frontcourt addition with Harrison Barnes and Nerlens Noel (if they re-sign him). Once Dirk retires, Markkanen could step into his role of the shooting/scoring PF/C almost immediately, with high upside on the defensive end as well. And, obviously, he’ll be or has already been compared to Dirk, so why not have him learn from Dirk?” – Shane Rhodes

10. With the 10th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Sacramento Kings select Jonathan Isaac, a forward from Florida State University.

“Due to health concerns, Skal Labissiere fell all the way to 28th and became the steal of the 2016 NBA Draft. The Kings weren’t expecting to be so lucky as to have Jonathan Isaac fall to 10th this year. Isaac is built for the modern NBA, and his perimeter skills make him the perfect third big to add to Labissiere and Willie Cauley-Stein.” – Buddy Grizzard

11. With the 11th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Charlotte Hornets select Luke Kennard, a guard out of Duke University.

“As the lottery selections wind down Charlotte adds arguably the best shooter in the draft to pair in the back court with All-Star caliber point guard Kemba Walker. This duo projects as a high scoring pairing for years to come.” – Dennis Chambers

12. With the 12th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Detroit Pistons select John Collins, a forward out of Wake Forest.

“Detroit, not sold on Reggie Jackson, but with the elite point guards of the draft off the board, selects John Collins. Head coach Stan Van Gundy loves high motor physical frontcourt players, and Collins has the tools to etch out a nightly role as a rookie in a Pistons rotation needing more depth.” – Lang Greene

13. With the 13th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Denver Nuggets select Donovan Mitchell, a guard from the University of Louisville.

“The Nuggets have high-level prospects at every position, so there’s no significant area of need. Mitchell is the best player left on the board, with great upside on both sides of the ball.” – Ben Dowsett

14. With the 14th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Miami HEAT select Zach Collins, a center from Gonzaga University.

“Somehow, Collins dropped to No. 14 in our mock draft, so selecting him on behalf of the Miami HEAT is a no-brainer. The HEAT could be looking for a big man with their lone draft pick come Thursday, and Collins would be a great pick should he fall in their lap. He’s projected by most to be taken in the 10-12 range so there’s a chance he’ll be off the board by the time the HEAT select. Collins could give the HEAT insurance at the backup center position should they lose Willie Reed in free agency. Collins looks to be a good fit in the HEAT’s system with his ability to impact a game on the defensive end.” – Cody Taylor

15. With the 15th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers select Jarrett Allen, a center from the University of Texas.

“The Portland Trail Blazers have a nice mix of young, versatile talent. However, they also have limited cap flexibility, so bringing in prospects who fill an area of need is essential. Jarrett Allen may not be ready to be a rotation player on day one, but he gives the Trail Blazers a long, physically gifted athlete at center. Jusuf Nurkic anchors the middle for Portland, but Allen is a springy athlete who can run the floor and finish lobs. He isn’t a perfect fit, but his athletic abilities and upside make him a nice addition to Portland’s frontcourt.” – Jesse Blancarte

16. With the 16th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Chicago Bulls select OG Anunoby, a forward from the University of Indiana.

“While it stinks that Anunoby probably won’t play until 2018 because of his ACL rehab, he would have been a sure-fire lottery pick if he were healthy, and the Bulls do love a good value pick regardless of where they are drafting. Anunoby is a complete player on both ends and would have been one of the most physically and mentally prepared players in this draft. The Bulls just have to wait a bit to actually see how he fits.” – Joel Brigham

17. With the 17th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Milwaukee Bucks select T.J. Leaf, a forward from UCLA.

“The Bucks are kind of loaded at every position and may be creating something of a logjam at the forward positions, so I decided to add a stretch big to the group in UCLA forward T.J. Leaf. He can shoot and score, which always is a plus for a younger team like the Bucks.” – Moke Hamilton

18. With the 18th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Indiana Pacers select Ike Anigbogu, a center from UCLA.

“The Pacers need to go into full rebuild mode, and Anigbogu, with his other-worldly athleticism and sky-high defensive potential, could be a really fun fit alongside Myles Turner. Anigbogu is the youngest player in the draft, so there could be some waiting on him, but you’ve got to love the kid’s ceiling.” – Joel Brigham

19. With the 19th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Atlanta Hawks select Derrick White from the University of Colorado.

“Although it was tempting to grab Harry Giles here, the injury concerns were hard to ignore (i.e. Leon Powe). At 6-foot-5, Derrick White offers the versatility to play multiple positions and possesses the playmaking traits that new Atlanta Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk looks to add, similar to the Golden State blueprint where he spent 12 seasons.” – Lang Greene

20. With the 20th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers select Terrence Ferguson, a guard from Adelaide in Australia.

“The young shooting guard is not ready to be a contributor at the NBA level, but with Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Allen Crabbe and Evan Turner already on the roster, that’s not a huge issue. Ferguson has talent and potential on both sides of the ball. His biggest issue is his thin frame, but a season or two of training should help there. Should a player like Crabbe or Turner be moved in the near future, Ferguson will be there to step in and show what he can do.” – Jesse Blancarte

21. With the 21st pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Oklahoma City Thunder select Semi Ojeleye, a forward from Southern Methodist University.

“In need of another playmaker alongside Russell Westbrook, as well as somebody that can shoot the basketball from deep, the Oklahoma City Thunder nab Semi Ojeyele from SMU. His size and versatility will do wonders as both an athletic small forward and in some cases, as a stretch four.” – Spencer Davies

22. With the 22nd pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Brooklyn Nets select Harry Giles, a center from Duke University.

“For the Nets, there may be no lottery ticket better than Harry Giles. Despite his serious injury history, Giles firmly represents the type of prospect the Nets should take a swing on — particularly so without a first round pick in next year’s draft. With Brook Lopez set to enter unrestricted free agency in 2018 as well, selecting the risky Giles makes sense across the board.” – Ben Nadeau

23. With the 23rd pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Toronto Raptors select Bam Adebayo, a center from the University of Kentucky.

“Bam Adebayo is one of those project players that can eventually yield a big payoff. An athletic defensive presence, he could end up being the type of big man Dwayne Casey covets if/when the Raptors move on from Jonas Valanciunas.” – David Yapkowitz

24. With the 24th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Utah Jazz select Justin Jackson, a forward from the University of North Carolina.

“While the Jazz don’t feel like Jackson is a legitimate possible replacement for a player as good as Gordon Hayward, he does offer another modest-upside prospect on the wing in case Hayward does go elsewhere over the summer.” – Ben Dowsett

25. With the 25th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Orlando Magic select Justin Patton.

“Selecting Patton at No. 25 definitely fits the bill as drafting the best player available. It remains to be seen if he’ll ultimately drop this low on draft night, but Patton has perhaps the highest upside of any player left in the draft. Measuring in at 7-feet tall with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, Patton has great athleticism for his size. He possesses great skills on the offensive end and proved to be an efficient scorer during his one season at Creighton. With other big men on the roster in Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo, Patton may not be needed to come in and make an immediate impact, which could allow him to develop at his own pace and learn from the two guys ahead of him” – Cody Taylor

26. With the 26th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers select D.J. Wilson, a forward from the University of Michigan.

“Portland has a few versatile forwards who can stretch the floor but none has all of the physical tools and upside of Wilson. He is nowhere near ready to be a regular contributor, but if all goes right in his development, he could be a valuable stretch big with versatility on both ends of the court. That would be a pretty nice addition for the capped-out Blazers, especially this late in the first round.” – Jesse Blancarte

27. With the 27th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Brooklyn Nets select Isaiah Hartenstein, a center from Zalgiris Kaunas of the Lithuanian Basketball League.

“Isaiah Hartenstein has dropped down draft boards as of late, but the Nets are more than happy to scoop him up at No. 27. His potential as a floor-stretching center is a perfect fit for Kenny Atkinson’s trigger-happy three-point shooting side. He may not come to the NBA immediately, but the Nets are in no rush. Alongside Giles, Hartenstein would give the Nets a much-needed boost of young talent in the frontcourt.” – Ben Nadeau

28. With the 28th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Los Angeles Lakers select Tyler Lydon, a forward out of Syracuse University.

“Lydon is a capable prospect with a variety of talents on the offensive end. He finds various ways to score, which are rooted in his notable shooting abilities. Place Lydon on a ball movement-based offense that coach Luke Walton wants to build and he will likely find a way to be a positive contributor. This should be a fairly reliable, modest upside pick for the Lakers.” – James Blancarte

29. With the 29th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the San Antonio Spurs select Jawun Evans, a point guard out of Oklahoma State University.

“Evans is a good fit for the Spurs given the clouds surrounding Tony Parker and the uncertainty of Patty Mills returning. He is a great playmaker who can run the pick and roll and at least fill Mills old role off the bench. He is also pesky on defense and one of the quickest players in the draft as well.” – Shane Rhodes

30. With the 30th pick in the 2017 Basketball Insiders Group Mock Draft, the Utah Jazz select Frank Jackson.

“The former local high school standout shows immense promise on both ends, and while Jackson needs work as a full-time ball-handler, his shot-making could be a valuable asset down the line for a Jazz team always in need of spacing.” – Ben Dowsett

*****

What did you think of your team’s pick? Reach out to our writers on Twitter and of course be sure to check out the actual draft this Thursday. Stay plugged into Basketball Insiders for all the latest news and rumors in the last couple of days leading up to it!

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Georgetown Prospect Omer Yurtseven is Ready for Center Stage

Omer Yurtseven spoke with Drew Maresca about playing for coach Patrick Ewing, training for the NBA during a pandemic and why he feels he’s the best center in the 2020 draft class.

Drew Maresca

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Omer Yurtseven, the 7-foot tall, Georgetown center, posted an impressive junior season in 2019-20; he averaged 15.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. With legitimate NBA size and skills, it’s no mystery why he’s confident. “I don’t think anyone has my combination of tools and versatility,” Yurtseven recently told Basketball insiders. But he’s also a student of the game –well aware of the game’s history and where it’s headed.

“I wouldn’t put anyone ahead of me. I haven’t seen anyone with the tools that I have. I can shoot the ball, the three-ball, and that’s where the big man is headed,” Yurtseven said.

But he’s not satisfied with what he’s accomplished thus far. He wants more. And he understands that he’ll have to continue working to ensure his spot in the league.

“Some guys might be more athletic [than me], but there are a lot of athletic bigs in the league who don’t stick,” Yurtseven continued. “The skillset is just as important, if not more. So is the [willingness to put in] the work. I think I’m better or as good as any other players, and my rookie year, that’s my goal, to prove that.”

Yurtseven transferred to Georgetown from N.C. State in 2018 after a successful Sophomore season in which he shot over 50 percent on three-point attempts. He sat out the 2018-19 season voluntarily to play for Georgetown and coach Patrick Ewing. The opportunity to work with the Hall of Famer was too good to pass up.

“That’s what I was looking for coming in [working with Ewing]. I needed someone to see the game from my perspective,” Yurtseven said. “I was looking for that feedback and I demanded to be coached. I wanted to learn from him. The thing he stayed on me the most about was the pace of the game and how quick my moves would have to be at the next level.

“The turnaround jumper was one of his major weapons,” Yurtseven continued. “He was ahead of his time, but he wanted to see me do the same thing and give 100 percent effort every time.”

Yurtseven jumper is a major weapon in his arsenal, so a pairing with Ewing was an obvious fit. His numbers remained strong during his junior year season with Georgetown, but with one glaring drop off – three-point percentage. Ewing demanded that Yurtseven operate from the low post, a role that the prospect didn’t love, but accepted. Could a new role be to blame for a down shooting year? Yurtseven would never blame anyone other than himself, especially not Ewing. But it’s clear that he felt like he could have done even more if given the opportunity.

“The biggest thing is, I played how I played because that was the role demanded of me. All I had to do was be the inside presence, the defense collapser, and we had to stick to the strategy that coach thought was best for the team.

“I would love to have caught the ball at the top a little more,” Yurtseven continued. “But I was happy to be the post guy. I knew I had to get into my moves quick, so that’s what I did. I sacrificed what I think is my best skills for the team, and I was fine with it.”

It’s evident that Yurtseven is a team-first guy but his three-point shooting took a significant hit. As mentioned above, Yurtseven shot 50 percent on 1.3 three-point attempts as a sophomore in 2017-18, but only 21.4 percent on only half an attempt from long range per game in 2019-20. However, it’s not in his nature to look back – only ahead.

“That’s been my main focus,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “In April, I was shooting 30 or 40 percent two steps behind the college three. That percentage has added up 5 or 10 percent each month. Doing it isn’t easy, but it pays off and that’s why we do it. Now I’m at 75 or 80 percent (in practice sessions) and I’m really confident in my ability.

“And that’s the most important skill set for big men right now,” Yurtseven said. “You’ve got to be a perimeter shooter, as well as a perimeter defender, because big men are evolving away from the rim.”

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Yurtseven – and all of the 2020 class – received longer than normal between the end of the 2019-20 NCAA season and the 2020 NBA Draft. And while mock drafts have slowly whittled down the number of prospects, Yurtseven is working tirelessly to improve his stock in any way possible. impressive game.

“No one knew this offseason would be so long. It’s been 6, 8 months already,” Yurtseven continued. “But the team around me has been a blessing – coordinating workouts and making sure I’m taking steps to improve, from nutrition to training lateral quickness to shooting.

“It’s speed and agility, studying the game and having the knowledge about how to position yourself,” Yurtseven continued. “It’s timing and positioning and footwork. It’s all pieces of the puzzle. But the league is another level than college. That’s why I’ve been preparing, increasing lateral quickness, strengthening my glutes, making sure my quads and hips are firing well and that my lateral push-off is explosive as I want.”

“And seeing it translate on the court in two-on-twos and three-on-threes. Switching on guards and providing I can do it to myself. It’s been really fun and fulfilling.”

Yurtseven could have opted to play professionally in Europe – he had numerous professional offers as an 18-year-old prior to coming to joining N.C. State. But Yurtseven is driven by more than money and fame. He is family-oriented and understands the long game. His parents wanted him to receive a college degree before pursuing basketball – a decision that Yurtseven is happy to have made.

“The education was the main reason [I chose to play in the NCAA]. My family’s dream was that I get a college degree.

“When I was 18, [Turkish teams] offered me a huge contract. I’ve never seen so many zeros in my life,” Yurtseven continued.

“Now it’s time to chase my dream. And my team, my circle, it’s our goal to find a franchise that allows me to grow into a player for 10-plus years – and I’ll never stop working at it.”

Where Yurtseven ultimately plays is anyone’s guess – but he’s already spoken with 17 NBA teams.

Whatever franchise selects the center will add a hard-working and versatile big man that looks well-suited for the modern game – or he may not be selected at all.  Yurtseven is currently ranked outside the top 50 according to some mocks – but if he gets an opportunity, he knows how he’d like to play.

“My aim is to get a double-double, year one,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “And, of course, guarding 1 through 5 is another big thing that coaches are looking for. Look at the Bucks, they were ranked first in offense (in 2019-20). Most of their points come from spot-ups. Defenses collapse on Giannis and Middleton – and Brook Lopez stays alone in the corner. I think that’ll be where I get my shots, too.”

Only three rookies in the past 10 years have averaged a double-double in their first season in the league – Blake Griffin, Karl-Anthony Towns, Deandre Ayton. That’s an elite club in which Yurtseven is seeking membership. Can he surprise the basketball world? Only time will tell.

There isn’t much data on him against elite big men. But there is one relevant contest worth examining: a Nov. 22 matchup against Duke and Vernon Carey, who is projected to be drafted No. 26 overall by Basketball Insiders.

Carey filled the stat sheet with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but so did Yurtseven (21 points, five rebounds and four blocks). That night, his entire repertoire was on full display – decisive drop steps, smooth turnaround jump shots over both shoulders, baby hooks, midrange jumpers and hard-nosed defense.

“He was the only true big man that I played against,” Yurtseven recalled. “He was quick and Duke did a good job putting the ball in his hands as soon as he stepped in the paint. I had to exert a lot of energy keeping him off his spot, but I adjusted quickly.

“I figured he would be very strong, but he ultimately didn’t feel as strong as I expected. My maturity and strength helped me a lot.”

Yurtseven’s skill and build render him tailor-made for the NBA. But for most, sticking at the professional peak is about more than skill and body. IQ, on and off of the floor, play a major role, too.

“A lot of guys [in this draft class] haven’t played many games,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “Having a college degree and that experience is a huge tool.

“Playing overseas as a pro is another layer of experience that I have compared to these guys. My IQ has improved. Those one-and-done guys are gonna be thrown into the fire, but I’ll be more ready.

“I saw a study,” Yurtseven explained. “Guys that come in 21-and-under stay in the league two or three years on average. Guys that come in and are 21-or-older stay seven or eight years on average. That just shows how much time it takes to mature your game.”

Comparatively, only four players were 22 or older as on draft night in 2019 – Yurtsevein is 22.

At the end of the day, it will be about how he performs on the court, and he’s comfortable with that.

“If I get drafted, I’ll be the first guy coming out of Turkey with a college degree,” Yurtseven said proudly.

“I’m ready for the next step. I appreciate everyone wishing me luck and supporting me from afar. I can’t wait to show my game’s evolution and reap the benefits of all of the work I’ve put in.”

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NBA Daily: Tyronn Lue is the Right Coach for the Clippers

Is Lue the right coach for the Los Angeles Clippers? David Yapkowitz thinks so.

David Yapkowitz

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When Doc Rivers was first hired by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2013, the expectation was that he would be the one to guide the franchise into respectability. A laughingstock of the NBA for pretty much their entire existence, marred by bad coaching, bad management and bad ownership, Rivers was supposed to help change all of that.
For the most part, he did.

Rivers arrived from the Boston Celtics with the 2008 championship, and he helped the Celtics regain their standing as one of the NBA’s elite teams. The Clippers were a perennial playoff contender under him and were even in the conversation for being a possible championship contender. The Lob City Clippers led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin certainly were talked about as being a title contender, and this season’s group led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were definitely in the mix as well.

Not only did Rivers steady the team on the court though, but he was also a very steadying presence off the court. He guided the franchise through the Donald Sterling controversy and he was a positive voice for the team as they navigated the bubble and the ongoing charge for social reform in the country.

But when things go wrong with a team, the coach is usually the one who ends up taking the fall. While Rivers did bring the Clippers to a level of respectability the franchise has never known, his record was not without blemishes. Most notably was his team’s inability to close out playoff series’ after holding three games to one on advantages two separate occasions.

In 2015, the Clippers had a 3-1 lead over the Houston Rockets only to squander that lead and lose Game 7 on the road. In Game 6, their shots stopped falling and neither Paul nor Griffin could do anything to halt the Rockets onslaught.

This season, in an incredibly similar fashion, the Clippers choked away a 3-1 lead over the Denver Nuggets and ended up getting blown out the second half of Game 7. Just like before, the offense stalled multiple games and neither Leonard nor George could make a difference.

There were also questions about Rivers’ rotations and his seeming inability to adjust to his opponents. In the end, something had to change, and whether it’s right or wrong, the coach usually ends up taking the fall.

Enter Tyronn Lue. Lue, like Rivers, is also a former NBA player and has a great deal of respect around the league. He came up under Rivers, getting his first coaching experience as an assistant in Boston, and then following Rivers to the Clippers.

He ended up joining David Blatt’s staff in Cleveland in 2014, and when Blatt was fired in the middle of the 2015-16 season, Lue was promoted to head coach. In the playoffs that year, Lue guided the Cavaliers to victory in their first 10 playoff games. They reached the Finals where they famously came back from a 3-1 deficit against the 73-9 Golden State Warriors to win the franchise’s first championship.

The Cavaliers reached the Finals each full year of Lue’s tenure as head coach, but he was let go at the start of the 2018-19 season when the team started 0-6 after the departure of LeBron James.

In the 2019 offseason, Lue emerged as the leading candidate for the Los Angeles Lakers head coaching job, before he ultimately rejected the team’s offer. After rejoining Rivers in LA with the Clippers for a year, he once again emerged as a leading candidate for multiple head coaching positions this offseason before agreeing to terms with the Clippers.

Following the Clippers series loss to the Nuggets, many players openly talked about the team’s lack of chemistry and how that may have played a factor in the team’s postseason demise. Adding two-star players in Leonard and George was always going to be a challenge from a chemistry standpoint, and the Clippers might have secured the perfect man to step up to that challenge.

During his time in Cleveland, Lue was praised for his ability to manage a locker room that included James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. In Game 7 against the Warriors, Lue reportedly challenged James at halftime and ended up lighting a fire that propelled the Cavaliers to the championship.

Lue’s ability to deal with star egos isn’t just limited to his coaching tenure. During his playing days, Lue was a trusted teammate with the Los Angeles Lakers during a time when Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant weren’t seeing eye to eye. He also played with Michael Jordan during Jordan’s Washington Wizard days.

Now, he’ll be tasked with breaking through and leading the Clippers to a place where no Clipper team has ever been before. He’ll be expected to finish what Rivers was unable to accomplish and guide the Clippers to an NBA championship.

For one, he’ll have to change the Clippers offensive attack. This past season, the Clippers relied too much on an isolation heavy offense centered around Leonard and George. That style of play failed in the playoffs when after failing to adjust, the Clippers kept taking tough shot after tough shot while the Nuggets continued to run their offense and get good shots.

With the Cavaliers, Lue showed his ability to adjust his offense and work to his player’s strengths. In the 2018 Playoffs, Lue employed a series of off-ball screens involving Love and Kyle Korver with James reading the defense and making the correct read to whoever was in the best position to score.

When playing with James, the offense sometimes tends to stagnate with the other four players standing around and waiting for James to make his move. Lue was able to get the other players to maintain focus and keep them engaged when James had the ball in his hands. Look for him to try and do something similar for when either Leonard or George has the ball in their hands.

He’s already got a player on the roster in Landry Shamet who can play that Korver role as the designated shooter on the floor running through off-ball screens and getting open. Both Leonard and George have become efficient enough playmakers to be able to find open shooters and cutters. That has to be Lue’s first task to tweak the offense to find ways to keep the rest of the team engaged and active when their star players are holding the ball.

The defensive end is going to be something he’ll need to adjust as well. The Clippers have some of the absolute best individual defensive players in the league. Leonard is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, George was a finalist for the award in 2019 and Patrick Beverley is a perennial All-Defensive Team selection.

When the team was locked in defensively this season, there wasn’t a team in the league that could score on them. The problem for them was they seemingly couldn’t stay engaged on the defensive end consistently enough. The other issue was Rivers’ inability to adjust his defense to his opponent. Against the Nuggets, Nikola Jokic had a field day whenever Montrez Harrell was guarding him.

Lue’s primary task will be to get this team to maintain their defensive intensity throughout the season, as well as recognize what matchups are and aren’t working. Both Ivica Zubac and JaMychal Green were more effective frontcourt defenders in the postseason than Harrell was. Look for Lue to play to his team’s strengths, as he always has, and to trot out a heavy dose of man-to-man defense.

Overall, Lue was the best hire available given the candidates. He’s got a strong rapport among star players. He’s made it to the finals multiple times and won a championship as a head coach. And he already has experience working with Leonard and George.

Given the potential free agent status of both Leonard and George in the near future, the Clippers have a relatively small window of championship contention. Lue was in a similar situation in Cleveland when James’ pending free agency in the summer of 2018 was also a factor. That time around, Lue delivered. He’ll be ready for this new challenge.

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NBA

NBA Daily: The Lakers’ Third Scorer Is By Committee

The Los Angeles Lakers have a whole unit of third scoring options – and that’s why they’re one win from an NBA Championship.

David Yapkowitz

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One of the biggest questions surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers once the NBA bubble began was who was going to pick up the mantle of being the third scoring option.

Even before the 2019-20 season began, it was obvious that LeBron James and Anthony Davis would be the primary offensive weapons, but every elite team with championship aspirations needs another player or two they can rely on to contribute on the offensive end consistently.

The obvious choice was Kyle Kuzma. In his third year in the NBA, Kuzma was the lone member of the Lakers’ young core that hadn’t been shipped elsewhere. His name had come up in trade rumors as possibly being included in the package to New Orleans for Davis, but the Lakers were able to hang on to him. He put up 17.4 points per game over his first two seasons and had some questioning whether or not he had All-Star potential.

For the most part this season, he settled into that role for much of this season. With Davis in the fold and coming off the bench, his shot attempts dropped from 15.5 to 11.0, but he still managed to be the team’s third scorer with 12.8 points per game.

But here in the bubble, and especially in the playoffs, the Lakers’ role players have each taken turns in playing the supporting role to James and Davis. Everyone from Kuzma to Alex Caruso, to Dwight Howard, to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, to Markieff Morris and even Rajon Rondo have had games where they’ve given the team that additional scoring boost.

Earlier in the bubble, James himself said they need Kuzma to be the team’s third-best player to win, but Kuzma himself believes that it’s always been by committee.

“We don’t have a third scorer, that’s not how our offense is built. Our offense is really AD and Bron, and everyone else plays team basketball,” Kuzma said on a postgame media call after Game 4 of the Finals. “We’ve had a long season, hopefully by now, you’ve seen how we play. Everyone steps up at different times, that’s what a team does.”

On this particular night, when the Miami HEAT got a pregame boost with the return of Bam Adebayo and wealth of confidence from their Game 3 win, it was Caldwell-Pope who stepped up and assumed the mantle of that third scoring option.

He finished Game 4 with 15 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 percent from three-point range. He also dished out five assists and grabbed three rebounds. Perhaps his most crucial moments of the game came late in the fourth quarter with the Lakers desperately clinging to a slim lead and the Heat not going away.

He hit a big three-pointer in front of the Miami bench with 2:58 to go in the game, and then followed that up with a drive the rim and finish on the very next possession to give the Lakers some breathing room.

Caldwell-Pope has been one of the most consistent Lakers this postseason and he’s been one of their most consistent three-point threats at 38.5 percent on 5.3 attempts. He was actually struggling a bit with his outside shot before this game, but he always stayed ready.

“My teammates lean on me to pick up the energy on the defensive end and also make shots on the offensive end…I stayed within a rhythm, within myself and just played,” Caldwell-Pope said after the game. “You’re not going to knock down every shot you shoot, but just staying with that flow…Try to stay in the rhythm, that’s what I do. I try not to worry about it if I’m not getting shots. I know they are eventually going to come.”

Also giving the Lakers a big offensive boost in Game 4 was Caruso who had a couple of easy baskets at the rim and knocked down a three-pointer. He’s become one the Lakers best off the ball threats as well, making strong cuts to the rim or drifting to the open spot on the three-point line.

He’s had his share of games this postseason when it’s been his turn to step up as the Lakers additional scoring threat. During Game 4 against the Houston Rockets in the second round, Caruso dropped 16 points off the bench to help prevent the Rockets from tying the series up. In the closeout Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets, he had 11 points and finished the game in crunch time.

For him, it’s about staying ready and knowing that the ball is eventually going to come to whoever is open. When that happens, it’s up to the role players to take that pressure off James and Davis.

“Our third star or best player is whoever has the open shot. We know what AD and LeBron are going to bring to the table every night. They’re going to get their attention, they’re going to get their shots,” Caruso said after the game.

“It’s just about being ready to shoot. We have two of the best passers in the game, if not the best, so we know when we are open, we are going to get the ball. We have to be ready to do our job as soon as the ball gets to us.”

And if the Lakers are to close out the series and win the 2020 NBA championship, head coach Frank Vogel knows that it’s going to take a collective effort from the rest of the team, the way they’ve been stepping up all postseason.

“We need everybody to participate and contribute, and we’re a team-first team,” Vogel said after the game. “Obviously we have our two big horses, but everybody’s got to contribute that’s out there.”

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