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Get to Know Knicks Center Kyle O’Quinn

Kyle O’Quinn doesn’t get much attention doing the Knicks’ dirty work, but he’s a hilarious and intriguing person.

Alex Kennedy

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It’s difficult to write an article about New York Knicks big man Kyle O’Quinn and focus solely on basketball. He is a talented player who has carved out a nice niche for himself, but there are many entertaining O’Quinn stories that the public needs to know about. He is widely considered one of the funniest players in the NBA, and over the years his sense of humor has helped unite locker rooms, led to some crazy interactions with celebrities and spawned some great pranks.

*****

I first met O’Quinn when he was doing his pre-draft training at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas and a mutual friend introduced us. My colleague Steve Kyler and I shot some video of his workout and did an interview with him. He was funny and just seemed happy to be there since he never imagined he’d have a shot at being an NBA player (more on that later).

That night, O’Quinn and our mutual friend invited Steve and I to dinner with fellow draft prospects Ashton Gibbs of Pittsburgh, Maalik Wayns of Villanova and Xavier Gibson of Florida State. We went to Firefly, a tapas restaurant in Las Vegas, and noticed a party taking place in the back. We waited for a bit and when the players arrived, they guided us back to the party in the private section.

It turns out this wasn’t a casual dinner with a few players. Instead, we had been unknowingly invited to the birthday dinner for Floyd Mayweather’s sister.

It was a large event with a ton of family members and close friends in attendance. Floyd had left earlier, but we got the opportunity to chat with some of his close relatives and his business manager Leonard Ellerbe. When singing Happy Birthday, Steve and I glanced at each other and we had the same confused, “how-did-we-end-up-here” look on our faces. We weren’t complaining though. Everyone was extremely welcoming and dinner was delicious.

Immediately after dinner, the players decided that they wanted to get an additional workout in (even though they had just trained really hard at Impact’s gym earlier that day). After trying to find an open gym, they settled on a 24 Hour Fitness about 30 minutes away. We were unsure about going since we had to wake up early the next day and it was well past midnight. But I wanted to see these players do a private workout and persuaded Steve to come too.

When we arrived with the players, three ridiculously expensive cars pull up and Mayweather gets out of one. He’s surrounded by his Money Team entourage, and he’s apparently here to play pick-up basketball with the soon-to-be pros. We had no idea that this was going to happen. O’Quinn, Gibbs, Gibson, Wayns and Mayweather played against a team of random dudes who were just shooting around at 24 Hour Fitness at 1 a.m. and, obviously, destroyed them. At one point, Mayweather caught an elbow to the face from a guy in his early 20s as they were battling for a rebound. Initially, Floyd’s face turned extremely serious and he glared at the guy as he processed the pain. However, seconds later, he smiled, dapped the kid and complimented him for fighting for the board. He appreciated that the guy didn’t back down or give up the ball out of fear.

The game continued and while his talented peers were going relatively easy on the competition and having fun with their inferior opponents, O’Quinn was dunking on people, pinning shots on the backcourt and yelling at teammates who weren’t running full speed in transition. Sure, he was cracking jokes here and there, but he was going hard out there. I realized that O’Quinn is an extreme competitor who despises losing – no matter the circumstances. At Impact, he would yell at himself if he felt like he could’ve done better in a drill or scrimmage scenario. That’s understandable. But that same intensity was present at this random 24 Hour Fitness pick-up game.

“Kyle is one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met, but he takes his workouts seriously and he works relentlessly,” Gibbs told Basketball Insiders. “And Floyd had the same confidence on the court that he has in the ring, so they were playing hard.”

After the team of soon-to-be pros won convincingly, the group went back to Mayweather’s place to check out his cars (he owned several pairs of cars that were the same year and model, with the only difference being one was painted white and one was painted black) and tour his mansion. The next day, O’Quinn described the unexpected evening as one of the best nights of his life. He was inspired to see that Mayweather had built an empire and become an all-time great boxer through hard work, but was even more shocked by the way that Mayweather treated him like a peer.

“The thing that I remember most about that night is that it was my first time feeling like a professional athlete,” O’Quinn said. “I had just recently gotten to Impact Basketball in Las Vegas, so I basically went from being in my dorm room at Norfolk State to hanging out with Floyd Mayweather at his mansion and he’s recognizing us – myself, Ashton, Maalik, Xavier – as fellow pro athletes and there was mutual respect. That was the first time that had happened to any of us and it was a special feeling.”

“He’s right, that’s true,” Gibbs said. “The night with Floyd was epic.”

The players respected Mayweather’s athletic greatness, intense work ethic and ability to overcome every obstacle in his way (including the serious ones he brought upon himself) to achieve his seemingly impossible dream.

*****

O’Quinn always seems to have a positive attitude and be in a good mood, perhaps because he never thought he’d be in this position when he was growing up. He was a late bloomer when it came to basketball and, in fact, he almost gave up on the sport as a junior in high school due to a lack of playing time. He planned to focus on football full time, but ultimately decided to stick it out and play his senior basketball season. This turned out to be an excellent decision, as he thrived. He received a scholarship offer from Norfolk State University and was thrilled, since he never expected to get a full ride to college from basketball. O’Quinn was ecstatic that he could play at the next level. After that, he wasn’t sure what he’d do. Try to play overseas? Find a job outside of basketball? Had you told the Queens native that he’d be playing in Madison Square Garden for the Knicks, he likely would’ve laughed in your face.

Fast forward four years later to O’Quinn’s senior year at Norfolk State, when the Spartans shocked everyone in the NCAA Tournament by upsetting the second-seeded Missouri Tigers. This was in large part because of O’Quinn’s 26 points, 14 rebounds, two blocks and two assists (while shooting 62.5 percent from the field). America fell in love with him right after the win when he admitted on national television, “We even messed up my bracket!”

After Norfolk State’s surprising March Madness run ended, O’Quinn thrived at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament (where seniors can showcase their skill set in front of NBA talent evaluators before the draft). He averaged 11.7 points, 11.7 rebounds and 3.7 blocks at the tournament, and once again showed off his clutch gene when he tallied eight points, 12 rebounds and six blocks in the event’s championship game.

Despite starting behind many of his peers, he eventually grew more comfortable in his large body and worked extremely hard to improve. He realized that doing the dirty work that other players shied away from allowed him make an impact each time he stepped on the court, even if his opponent was more talented or athletic. By his senior year at Norfolk State and certainly after the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, it was clear that he’d be drafted. Even still, he had doubts. He checked mock drafts frequently, asked reporters for their thoughts and considered what he would do if he didn’t get picked. When someone would congratulate him that his NBA dream was close to becoming a reality, he’d pump the brakes and pepper his response with “maybe” and “hopefully” and “we’ll see.” The NBA never seemed like a realistic career path, so he was scared to get his hopes up and be crushed.

Unlike some of today’s prospects, who grow up believing that being drafted is a foregone conclusion and become quite big-headed from a young age, Kyle matured and went through four years of college before realizing the NBA was in his future. Coaches and teammates believe this is a big reason why he has remained down to earth and never acts entitled, since he’s essentially playing with house money after exceeding his wildest basketball expectations.

O’Quinn was, in fact, drafted on June 28, 2012. The Orlando Magic selected him with the 49th overall pick. This didn’t guarantee he’d make the team, though, as most players picked that late end up outside the NBA, sometimes before they even suit up for the franchise that drafted them. But O’Quinn won over Orlando’s decision-makers and teammates right out of the gate.

*****

In the Orlando Summer League, O’Quinn played very well and wasn’t afraid to be himself. He dominated No. 9 draft pick Andre Drummond in one game, holding the lottery pick to three points and three rebounds in 21 minutes (while O’Quinn had 11 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes). And he trash talked throughout the entire contest, making sure Drummond knew he was being worked by a late second-rounder who was essentially obscure just one year earlier. Drummond was rattled, to the point that some teammates were trying to comfort him and get his confidence back up throughout the contest. At one point, Drummond told O’Quinn, “You know, I was the No. 9 pick.” O’Quinn says he responded, “I know, I went 40 picks after you. There were a lot of motherf***ers like you taken before me.” Remember, this was a Summer League game.

Another center (who shall remain nameless because Kyle is nice and didn’t want to embarrass him) received similar trash talk whenever the two bigs matched up. O’Quinn always felt that he was better than this individual prospect, but he lost all respect for the other center when the two were at a pre-draft workout competing against each other. Halfway through the workout, the team’s talent evaluators asked the centers to run sprints. Everyone was exhausted, but started running anyway. Everyone except this unnamed center, who told the front office personnel, “F*** it, you aren’t picking me anyway,” and proceeded to leave the gym and not return. O’Quinn cracked up, and still laughs anytime the story is brought up. However, from that point on, O’Quinn was understandably frustrated that he was picked after that center (who went in the first round).

With the Magic, O’Quinn’s hard work, positivity and swagger were contagious. These things were important during the team’s post-Dwight Howard rebuilding years, and O’Quinn became a key rotation player. Due to his sense of humor, hustle plays and the fact that he was always the first player off of the bench to congratulate or console a teammate, he also became a fan favorite in Orlando. It wasn’t uncommon to see O’Quinn jerseys and fake beards around the Amway Center.

One child wore an O’Quinn jersey and fake beard to each home game, so Kyle autographed it, took him in the locker room occasionally and insisted that the boy give him a signed Pop Warner football jersey in return. O’Quinn could barely fit into the child-sized jersey, but he’d squeeze into it for fun every now and then to show the little boy that the fandom was a two-way street. As a kid, it’s a relief when your favorite player is nice the first time you meet him. For this kid, it doesn’t get much better than the events that unfolded after he met O’Quinn and actually became his friend.

“Kyle is the guy who makes you want to come to work every day,” said former Magic teammate E’Twaun Moore, who now plays for the New Orleans Pelicans. “Kyle brings positive energy to the team and he works really hard. He’s definitely the type of guy who brings a team together. I think he is the ultimate teammate.”

At one point during his stint with the Magic, O’Quinn tried to cheer up his teammates in the middle of a losing season. O’Quinn is constantly cracking jokes, and he decided to pull a prank on his locker-neighbor Nik Vucevic. Rather than pulling one of the same unoriginal pranks that NBA players have been doing for years, O’Quinn got creative – and, well, personal.

One day, he decided to tape a picture of Vucevic’s girlfriend to the front of his locker. He never said a word about the image, but would tap it for good luck or do things to draw attention to it. I asked him about it during some small talk before a game and, after making sure Vucevic wasn’t around, he smiled mischievously and explained that he had put it up several days prior and couldn’t wait for Vucevic to notice. Finally, after quite a bit of time, Vucevic asked about it and the whole team (including Nik) had a huge laugh.

“I’m not gonna lie, I forget exactly how long [it took him to notice],” O’Quinn said, recalling the prank with laughter. “But it was so funny.”

“Kyle is a great teammate, who keeps things light,” Magic point guard Elfrid Payton told Basketball Insiders. “But he also knows when to be serious. He was always asking questions, trying to learn about the game and get better. He’s a very hard worker.”

When players praise O’Quinn’s work ethic, they aren’t lying. Not only does O’Quinn work hard individually at Impact Basketball and his team’s facility in the offseason, he also makes an effort to travel to where his teammates are training so that he can work out together and strengthen team chemistry. In the past, he has encouraged others to do the same, getting multiple teammates together in the summer. It’s that kind of extra effort – plus his attempts to keep the locker room a fun place and make sure everyone feels included – that has won over countless teammates.

When O’Quinn’s deal with the Magic ended, the New York Knicks rewarded him with a four-year, $16 million contract (through a sign-and-trade with the Magic). Born and raised in New York, this made O’Quinn’s life seem even more surreal.

*****

Last season was O’Quinn’s first with the Knicks, and he averaged 4.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists and .8 blocks in 11.8 minutes per game. He shot 47.6 percent from the field and 76.7 percent from the free throw line. In Orlando, he started 41 games and played a larger role, but he did what was asked of him last year in New York and approached his reserve minutes with the right attitude.

He produced when given playing time, as evidenced by his incredibly impressive per-100-possession averages of 20.8 points, 16.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 3.3 blocks.

Oftentimes he was doing the little things that every team needs from role players, such as fighting for loose balls, making hustle plays and altering shots. However, O’Quinn did block his fair share of shots too. In fact, his 3.1 blocks per-48-minutes ranked seventh in the NBA – ahead of notable interior defenders such as Serge Ibaka, Anthony Davis, Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard and Nerlens Noel.

“As someone who does the dirty work myself, I appreciate Kyle’s hard-nosed approach to the game,” Los Angeles Lakers big man Larry Nance Jr. told Basketball Insiders. “If you don’t match his energy and effort, he’ll make the game extremely difficult for you.”

Entering the 2016-17 season, O’Quinn knows he must be ready to produce at his highest level yet. Expectations have increased significantly since the team added Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee and Brandon Jennings to a core that already featured cornerstones Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. The playoffs are a realistic goal, and O’Quinn wants to be the junkyard dog that makes life easier for his star teammates.

“When I saw the moves, I was thinking, ‘Man, we’re really trying to make a push, we’re not trying to develop,’” O’Quinn said excitedly. “I think this is one of the first teams I’ve been on where it’s pretty clear cut that they went after guys who they think could help win now. In the past, it’s been, ‘Okay, we’ll give this guy a chance,’ or we were signing guys who were trying to find their way into the league.

“Now, I think if we stay healthy, everyone feels [the playoffs] are possible. When I saw the moves, of course I was excited. Playing with Carmelo is exciting enough, but then you add guys like D-Rose and Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee? That’s so exciting. Now, we’ll just try to create a strong locker room with those guys and enjoy the process.”

Creating a strong locker room is one of the things that O’Quinn does best. He brought people together with his sense of humor in Orlando and he has done the same thing in New York, according to his teammates.

“Kyle is hilarious,” Cleanthony Early said after playing with O’Quinn last season. “He’s a jokester and he’s a good energy to be around. He works extremely hard, and he’s a good person. Every team needs guys like that.”

And it’s not forced or some kind of act. He’s just being Kyle.

“I mean, it’s pretty easy coming in the locker room and just being myself,” O’Quinn said. “I think that is the biggest part, just being comfortable with who you are. You’re coming in and letting everyone know who you are, speaking here and there. Some guys don’t speak and I think that’s the first thing you need to do just to ease the mood. Communication and relationships are important.”

In addition to the notable players New York added, they also hired a new head coach in Jeff Hornacek. O’Quinn has talked with the new sideline general and is very impressed thus far.

“I think it’s a great hire,” O’Quinn said of Coach Hornacek. “He showed what he can do out in Phoenix. With the team he had, being in the battle for the playoffs in the tough Western Conference was impressive. It goes to show you that he’s had success, he knows how to win. From just hanging out with him for a week down at Summer League, he’s very personable, very straightforward and easy to talk to. I think those are qualities in a coach that are underrated because sometimes as a player, it’s a little scary to talk to coaches. I mean, they determine so much – playing time, plays, everything – so you kind of want to come correct at all times. But I think as a coach, being open and willing to talk to players is a good trait. I’ve talked to him a little bit and we’ve had nothing but positive interactions to this point. I know he wants to up the pace and I think that’s just on us. We have to be in the best shape we can be going into training camp and just really adapt to what he wants to do.”

To be in the best shape of his life, O’Quinn has been grinding at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas.

“Kyle has had an excellent summer of training,” Joe Abunassar of Impact Basketball said. “We were able to bring his weight down and get him in elite shape to be able to play at a fast pace this year and be active in all areas of the game. He has been working out at least two, and sometimes up to three, times each day and now that we are getting into September, we are really focusing in on basketball specifics. His overall game will be much improved this year because of the work he has put in.  His consistency is impressive and his focus has been at another level. I have seen dozens of players mature and be able to raise their games, and Kyle has definitely hit that point this summer.”

“I’m just trying to get ready to gel with these guys as quick as I can when I meet up with them at training camp,” O’Quinn added. “We have made a lot of additions to the roster. A lot of people expect us to be in the playoffs and what not, so I just want to handle my part, which is just taking care of my body, continuing to learn more and more about the game so I can catch onto concepts as quickly as possible and just continuing to work on my jump-shot. I’m working on my mid-range jump shot, and stepping out to the three here and there in our workouts. And I’m continuing to watch film. I’m just trying to get familiar with everything. I’m running through our actions so I’m ready when I’m setting screens for D-Rose or Brandon Jennings or Courtney Lee or whoever is coming off. I will be ready to do my part. The next evolution for me is just solidifying my role and running with it.”

His role as class clown was solidified long ago, and continues in New York.

“Kevin Seraphin is obsessed with social media, so I unfollowed him on all of his accounts during last season,” O’Quinn with a laugh. “I just didn’t say anything and left him unfollowed for a few days. He was so confused. He really cares about that stuff, so he came to practice and was really concerned. It messed with his head. Carmelo played along and told him, ‘If a teammate unfollows you, he’s lost all trust in you. You need to fix this.’ Other teammates went along with it too. Kevin was confused for a few days and then at a team dinner in, I think, Utah, I gave a big speech in front of everyone. I talked about how mistakes were made, but I was willing to give Kevin a second chance and put my trust in him again and rebuild our bond. He was smiling like a kid in a candy shop. Then, everybody just busted up laughing. Jose Calderon was cracking up, sounding like a little kid. That’s when Kevin realized that I was messing with him the whole time and he started laughing too.

“That was my favorite semi-prank this past year,” he said with a smile. “I haven’t done anything too crazy to teammates in New York. Yet.”

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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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

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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