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2017 Free Agent Rankings: Shooting Guards

Dennis Chambers breaks down the potential group of free agent shooting guards.

Dennis Chambers

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As the NBA season starts to wind down and the playoff bracket begins to shape itself, teams start targeting the areas of their roster that need to be improved. Some teams naturally need more than others since only one Larry O’Brien trophy is handed out each season, though even the league’s elite teams are always looking to add pieces and retool as well.

So, as the offseason quickly approaches and with free agency looming here is a look at the top available shooting guards that could be looking to add a backcourt punch to teams of all competition levels.

Tier 1:

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — Restricted Free Agent

The top free-agent in this season’s shooting guard class, Caldwell-Pope is in the last year of his rookie deal with the Detroit Pistons, and he’s putting together a season that should have them thinking long and hard about offering him a max-contract extension.

By improving his 3-point shooting to a very respectable 37 percent this season, Caldwell-Pope officially entered into the realm of a high-level “3-and-D” wing player that is so coveted throughout the NBA. At 6-foot-5 and utilizing his 6-foot-8 wingspan, Caldwell-Pope has turned into a pest on the defensive wing.

Over the last two seasons, Caldwell-Pope has posted defensive win share numbers of 2.7 and 2.2. His ability to impact the defensive end of the court is what makes him so valuable moving forward. Coupled with his increased efficiency on the offensive end — converting a career-high 64 percent of shots within three feet of the rim — Caldwell-Pope could continue to legitimize himself as a two-way player.

On top of it all, he’s still just 24 years old. There’s plenty of time left in his career. That paired with his potential could likely land him a big dollar offer sheet should the Pistons decide to let him test the market.

J.J. Redick — Unrestricted Free Agent

Chris Paul’s backcourt running mate is set to hit the free agent pool. After carving out a niche in Los Angeles with the Clippers it’s hard to see Redick walking away. But crazier things have happened in free agency.

Redick’s skill as a perimeter scorer is an integral part of the Clippers’ offense. Averaging 14.7 points per game this season, slightly down from last year’s, Redick is still in line with his career average 41 percent 3-point shooting clip.

With Doc Rivers’ offense navigated by Paul, and two elite big men in Deandre Jordan and Blake Griffin, a knockdown kick out option is crucial to their success. Unless the 32-year-old Redick receives a whopping offer from another team desperate for shooters, expect him back in L.A.

Dwyane Wade — Player Option

After turning 35 this past January, Wade certainly isn’t the youngest option on the market. But the longtime Miami HEAT star is enjoying a resurgence season in his first year with the Chicago Bulls.

Averaging 18.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game Wade is showing that he’s still got some gas left in the tank. With his athleticism not at the level it once was, Wade has looked this season to refine his shooting form. As a result, he’s connecting on 31.5 percent of his shots from 3-point range. This isn’t the best percentage in the league by any means, but it is the most efficient Wade has shot from downtown since the 2008-09 season when he hit 31.7 of his shots from beyond the arc.

However, it would be a long shot to expect Wade to hit the open market. After being shut down for the season on March 15 with a sprain and fracture in his right elbow, Wade will enter this offseason with a $23.8 million player option. Coming off an injury and with his age no secret around the league, it would be unlikely Wade gets that type of value in another deal.

Tier 2:

Dion Waiters — Player Option

From the former shooting guard in Miami to the current one. Waiters is currently enjoying the strongest overall season of his career in South Beach.

Since Jan. 17, the HEAT are an NBA-best 23-5, and in large part because of Waiters’ play. Over that span, the Philadelphia native is averaging 18.4 points, 4.8 assists, and 3.6 rebounds per game. Waiters’ spike in production is partly a result of his hot-streak 3-point shooting; he’s connecting on 44 percent of his three’s over the HEAT’s run.

The hot play from Waiters has propelled Miami from the league’s basement to vying for a playoff berth. It’s also potentially propelling Waiters into a pay raise. Currently, Waiters will have a player option at the end of the season worth $3 million. Should his play continue and the HEAT find themselves playing postseason basketball, Waiters could be in line for a bigger deal from Miami. Or he could take his talents out of South Beach and to the highest bidder on the free market.

Tim Hardaway Jr. — Restricted Free Agent

After spending his first two seasons with the New York Knicks, Hardaway Jr. is using the final season of his rookie contract to flourish with the Atlanta Hawks.

Hardaway Jr. is averaging 13.9 points in just 25.9 minutes per game as a key reserve for the playoff-bound Hawks. Along with upping his scoring output, he also is producing career-highs in nearly every other offensive statistical category as well. Playing a legitimate role on a playoff team certainly doesn’t hurt your value, and should Hardaway Jr. have a strong showing in the postseason, it’s reasonable to see him command a good contract from the Hawks.

The opposite side of the coin in that scenario, though, would be Hardaway Jr. playing well enough convince another club to pay him more than Atlanta — who will commit $16.9 million to Kent Bazemore next season — would be willing to offer. Either way, Hardaway Jr. has produced enough to the level that he will be a popular option on the market this summer.

Sean Kilpatrick — Team Option

Perhaps the player on this list who’s helped himself the most over the last season and a half is Kilpatrick. Discarded in the league as a journeyman and near wash-out, Kilpatrick found new life in Brookly,n where he’s been one of the Nets’ few consistently good players. He’s owed $1.5 million next season, but the money isn’t guaranteed.

After putting together the season Kilpatrick has — 13.3 points, 4 rebounds and 34 percent 3-point shooting per game — finding another dotted line to sign and extend his stay in the NBA won’t be a hard task to accomplish should he find himself in the free-agent pool.

Tier 3:

Tyreke Evans — Unrestricted Free Agent

Following the DeMarcus Cousins-to-New Orleans trade, Evans found himself back where it all started in Sacramento. This time, the 6-foot-6 guard arrives with much less hype.

Seven years have passed since Evans turned in that 20/5/5 rookie year that only LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and Oscar Robertson accomplished as rookies up until that point. Since then, Evans has generally regressed in each of his statistical categories. Regardless, he has been a fairly productive player when on the court.

Health issues will always be a concern for Evans, who’s never registered a full 82-game season during his career. But by fashioning himself into a decent 3-point shooter over the last two seasons (37 percent compared to 27 percent in his first six seasons) Evans should be able to provide a nice bench scoring option for some team this summer.

Kyle Korver — Unrestricted Free Agent

A true one-trick pony, Korver’s ability to consistently shoot well from beyond the arc will allow him to find a job in NBA with relative ease.

How Korver impacts the Cleveland Cavaliers this June in the playoffs should determine whether General Manager David Griffin inks him to a new deal. But considering the Cavs gave up a first-round pick for Korver back in January, it would be wise to imagine Korver back in Cleveland.

Gerald Henderson — Team Option

Henderson made a hometown return to Philadelphia last summer to provide some veteran presence to a 76ers roster that desperately needed it. He’s owed $9 million next season, but due to Philadelphia’s desolate backcourt situation plus plenty of cap space, Henderson should most likely be retained.

However, should he hit the open market, Henderson can provide a team with a solid two-way option off the bench.

Nick Young — Player Option

Swaggy P could find himself shopping around for another team to bring his scoring and swag to this summer.

With an option of $5.6 million on the table for Young to pick up, his decision will ultimately come down to what the Los Angeles Lakers do in the NBA Draft. Should they draft another guard like Lonzo Ball or Markelle Fultz, Young could be on the outside looking in for meaningful minutes in an already-crowded backcourt.

While the money is good for Young in Los Angeles, he can still provide productive minutes and scoring for many teams throughout the league. If he decides to turn down his option, he should have no trouble latching on to a team as a bench scorer.

Vince Carter — Unrestricted Free Agent

At 40 years old, Carter continues to elude father time. The eight-time All-Star is averaging 24 minutes a game, his most since 2013-14, so even at his advanced age Carter is providing a decent amount of play for the Memphis Grizzlies.

Hitting an open market at 40 should be interesting for Carter. He’s shown he can still play, and has transformed his once high-flying offensive repertoire into a decent shooting game. Carter also still brings a positive defensive box plus/minus to the table.

Whether Memphis decides to bring him back or not may depend slightly on what they do with the next man on our list, and whether or not Carter chooses to retire.

Tier 4:

Tony Allen — Unrestricted Free Agent

One of his generation’s best perimeter defenders, Allen is still very productive at age 35. Averaging 9.2 points and 5.5 rebounds a game, Allen can do more than just guard the opposing team’s best wing player.

But he’s still pretty good at that too. A defensive box plus/minus of 2.6 shows Allen is still doing more than his fair share on the defensive end of the court. It will be interesting to see how the Memphis Grizzlies handle both Allen and Carter. Should they let Allen walk, his numbers this season prove he can still contribute solid production to a potential contender looking to add a veteran glue guy.

Manu Ginobili — Unrestricted Free Agent

There’s a slim-to-none chance Ginobili walks from San Antonio to another team. At 39 years old and after spending every season with the Spurs, including those four championship seasons, it’s hard to see the Argentina native on another team.

Should the near impossible happen and Ginobili chooses a new home over San Antonio and retirement, a team will surely give him a look based strictly off name value.

Ben McLemore — Restricted Free Agent

Failing to live up to the hype after being drafted No. 7 overall in the 2013 NBA Draft, McLemore is nearing the end of his rookie contract with the Sacramento Kings.

Despite averaging just 7.2 points a game, McLemore has averaged a career-high 39 percent shooting from beyond the arc. That bright spot alone could warrant the Kings extending McLemore a $5.3 million qualifying offer to see if he can make another jump in improvement next season.

If not, another team could take a chance on an underachieving high draft pick at a low price. Should McLemore suddenly live up to his initial expectations, the signing would be considered a home run.

Shabazz Muhammad — Restricted Free Agent

Muhammad is in a similar situation to McLemore, although he’s been slightly more productive.

At 24 years old, Muhammad is a nice young piece for a team like the Minnesota Timberwolves, but their roster is already relatively stacked at the wing positions. Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and Tyus Jones all get minutes at various backcourt spots. So it will be up to the Timberwolves if they want to invest money into Muhammad.

Should he walk, some team would benefit from giving him a shot at a fairly cheap deal.

Dennis Chambers is an NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. Based out of Philadelphia he has previously covered NCAA basketball and high school recruiting.

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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 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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NBA Daily: Alex Caruso: The Lakers’ Unsung Hero

The Los Angeles Lakers are two wins from an NBA championship and Alex Caruso is just happy to play his role and contribute.

David Yapkowitz

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Alex Caruso has technically been an NBA player for three years now, but this season is his first on a regular NBA contract.

After going undrafted out of Texas A&M in 2016, he began his professional career as with the Philadelphia 76ers in summer league. He managed to make it to training camp with the Oklahoma City Thunder but was eventually cut and acquired by their the G League team, the Blue.

In the summer of 2017, he joined the Los Angeles Lakers for summer league, and he’s stuck with the team ever since. A strong performance in Las Vegas earned him the opportunity to sign a two-way contract with the Lakers for the 2017-18 season, meaning he’d spend most of his time with the South Bay Lakers in the G League.

The Lakers re-signed him to another two-way contract before the 2018-19 season. Restricted to only 45 days with the Lakers under his two-way contracts, Caruso played in a total of 62 games over those two years.

It wasn’t until the summer of 2019 that the Lakers finally signed him to a standard NBA contract worth $5.5 million over two years. And he’s become a key player off the Lakers bench, especially in the playoffs.

Despite not getting much of an early opportunity, Caruso continued to put in the work in anticipation of when his number would finally be called. He always was confident that it would come.

“It’s been the story of my career, no matter what level I’m at, the more time I have on the court, the better I’ve gotten,” Caruso told reporters after the Lakers eliminated the Denver Nuggets. “I’ve been waiting for an opportunity, I was two years on two-ways…finally I played well enough to get a contract, and over the course of the year it’s the same thing, anytime I can get out there on the court, I get better.”

Caruso’s stats may not jump off the page, he put up 5.5 points per game this season on only 41.2 percent shooting from the field, 33.3 percent from three-point range, 1.9 assists and 1.9 rebounds, but his impact has gone far beyond statistics.

His playoff numbers are up slightly at 6.8 points on 43.6 percent shooting to go along with 2.9 assists and 2.3 rebounds, but he’s become an invaluable member of the team’s postseason run. The defensive intensity and energy he brings to the court have been instrumental in playoff wins.

In this postseason alone, he’s seen himself matched up defensively with Damian Lillard, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and one of the bubble’s breakout stars in Jamal Murray. Each time, he hasn’t backed down from the challenge and has even provided solid man to man defense on each of them.

“Looking and diving into the basketball aspect, series by series, just finding different ways that I know I can be effective, watching past games against opponents, just knowing their tendencies,” Caruso said on a recent media call. “The defense and the effort thing is something I’m always going to have. You can see that in the regular season when I might be more excited on a stop or defensive play on somebody than the rest of the team in game 45 or 50 in the season.”

While his main contributions have been his defense and his hustle, he’s found ways to be effective on the offensive end as well. While not shooting particularly well from three-point range percentage-wise in the playoffs at only 26.9 percent, he’s hit some timely ones during Laker runs to either pull closer to their opponent or to blow the game open.

He’s also been able to get the rim off drives and get himself to the free-throw line, and he’s made strong cuts off the ball to free himself up for easy layups. Playing with the second unit, he’s played a lot of off-ball with Rajon Rondo as the main facilitator, or with LeBron James as the only starter on the floor.

“For me, I think it’s about being aggressive. At any time I can put pressure on the paint whether it’s to get to the rim to finish or to draw fouls or make the defense collapse and get open shots for teammates, that’s really an added benefit for us to have multiple guys out on the court,” Caruso said.

“So whenever I’m out there with Rondo or with LeBron, to not have the sole focus be on one of them to create offense for everybody, it makes us a lot more balanced.”

The trust that Lakers head coach Frank Vogel and the rest of the team have in Caruso has been evident this whole postseason. Perhaps no bigger moment came for him than in Game 6 against the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals when Vogel left him on the court to close out the game.

He’s also become one of the team’s vocal leaders on the court during gameplay, on the sidelines in the huddle and the locker room. On a team with a lot of strong personalities, Caruso’s ascendance as a locker room leader is something that just comes naturally for him. It’s something he’s done his entire basketball career.

“Being vocal has always been easy for me. Outside of this team, I’ve usually been one of the leaders on the team, one of the best players on my team growing up at different levels of basketball. Being vocal is pretty natural for me,” Caruso said.

“I got the trust of my teammates, they understand what I’m talking about. I say what I need to say and it doesn’t fall on deaf ears. I’m really competitive and if there’s something I think needs to be said, I’m going to do it. I leave no stone unturned to get the job done.”

Now in the NBA Finals, as the Lakers seek to win their first championship since 2010 and No. 17 overall, Caruso has reprised his role as a defensive irritant and glue guy who makes winning plays. For the team to win this series, they need to continue to get timely contributions from him.

And with each step of the way, he’s just soaking it all up and is thrilled to be able to have this opportunity alongside some of the NBA’s best.

“It’s a journey I’ve been on my whole life just to get to this point. It’s really cool, I don’t know how to state it other than that,” Caruso said. “It’s just super cool for me to be able to have this experience. To play meaningful minutes and play well, and be on the court with LeBron in big-time moments.”

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