For several years now, I’ve been writing some version of this article, which looks at some of the biggest mistakes that teams historically have made when approaching the NBA Draft. Teams still are making the same mistakes, but many organizations seem to be figuring things out. Maybe it’s just because 2017 has a strong crop of players at the top of the draft, but it doesn’t look like many top teams are in any real danger of committing any particularly egregious errors.
But some team always makes an egregious error. It happens every single year, and usually, it boils down to one of the following:
#7 – Drafting players with questions about character
Why they do it: Because Dennis Rodman is a Hall-of-Famer. There’s more behind it than that, obviously, with other players like Ron Artest and Amar’e Stoudemire also having had tremendous careers despite questions about their character. Players like these are more the exception than the rule, however, and in many cases, when a player comes in with a history of bad behavior, it can be better to just let them go. No talent is worth locking yourself into a guaranteed first-round pick if they’re going to make the locker room miserable somewhere down the road.
Case in point: P.J. Hairston (Charlotte, 26th pick in the 2014 draft), Arnett Moultrie (Philadelphia, 27th pick in the 2012 draft) Terrence Williams (New Jersey, 11th pick in 2009 draft), Sean Williams (New Jersey, 17th pick in 2007 draft) and Sebastian Telfair (Portland, 13th pick in 2004 draft)
The closest thing we’ve got to real character concerns in the first round this year is Josh Jackson, who in April agreed to a diversion agreement stemming from a December incident in which he was alleged to have kicked the door and taillight of a car. He’ll have to attend anger management classes and refrain from alcohol and recreational drugs for 12 months as part of the agreement, which aren’t necessarily the worst parameters for an NBA rookie to have set on his newly-glamorous lifestyle.
Outside of Jackson, the biggest character concerns come from potential second rounders like LSU’s Craig Victor, who was suspended for using recreational drugs, and Houston guard Damyean Dotson, who was booted off of the University of Oregon basketball team because of rape allegations in 2014.
In other words, teams seem to be learning their lesson in at least this regard, though if one of the elite lottery talents did have a “history,” there’s little doubt that some team with a high pick still would take the plunge. That just isn’t a major concern this year, thankfully.
#6 – Drafting players with histories of injury
Why they do it: Because injuries heal, but talent is forever. At least, that’s what teams tell themselves when they use a first-round pick on a player who faced a lot of injuries in college. Every year, some player with injury concerns drops and drops and drops down the draft board, but every year there’s also a previously injured player who gets taken very, very high. In some cases, things work out okay (Kenyon Martin, Kyrie Irving), but other times (like with Greg Oden), it can be devastating. If all things are equal, and a GM has a choice between a player known for being hurt or a player with a clean bill of health, why not just draft the Kevin Durant?
Case in point: Joel Embiid (Philadelphia, 3rd pick in the 2014 draft), Greg Oden (Portland, 1st pick in the 2007 draft), Brandon Roy (Minnesota, 6th pick in the 2006 draft), Wayne Simien (Miami, 29th pick in the 2005 draft)
This draft’s potential culprits: Harry Giles, OG Anunoby. At 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Anunoby is the sort of defensive stud that can allow NBA teams to do all sorts of awesome things on that end of the floor, but he’s coming off a torn ACL and may not be ready for the start of the NBA season. If that injury lingers, he could even miss his entire first season, and are the lottery teams considering taking him really interested in a rookie who can’t help them crawl back into the postseason? Philadelphia has faced massive frustrations with Embiid, who is awesome but terribly fragile, so it’s hard to use picks that high on kids who are such risks.
As for Giles, it’s probably not a good thing that he tore his ACL twice before even getting out of high school. He’s healthy now, and it’s impossible to deny the talent of a young man that once was rated as the top high school prospect in the country, but the risk attached to Giles is just outrageous. At some point in the draft, it becomes more advantageous to take that risk over playing it safe with a healthier (but less talented) player, but most teams want to get real value out of their first-round picks at this point. Using that pick on someone who may never play meaningful minutes for your team is a hard sell.
#5 – Drafting for potential rather than experience
Why they do it: Because a high ceiling is better than a high floor. How many times do we see teams go with a kid that might be good rather than a player who already is undeniably reliable? Usually, the “potential” guys that succeed are the ones that pretty much everybody agrees on. The ones with a considerably smaller success rate are the “hope-so” guys, and that’s where the problem lies. You’re probably not going to strike out with LeBron James over anybody else in that amazing 2003 draft, for example, but in 2001, when three of the top four players drafted were high schoolers, we saw a lot of faith poured into young prospects when plenty of proven college studs were available. It gets teams into trouble more often than it saves them, even in the years since high school kids were banned from the draft.
Case in point: Anthony Bennett (Cleveland, 1st pick in 2013 draft ahead of Victor Oladipo and Otto Porter). Brandon Knight (Detroit, 8th pick in the 2011 draft ahead of Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard). Marvin Williams (Atlanta, 2nd pick in 2005 draft ahead of Chris Paul and Deron Williams). Shaun Livingston (LAC, 4th pick in the 2004 draft ahead of Luol Deng and Andre Iguodala). Kwame Brown and Eddy Curry (1st and 4th picks in 2001 draft ahead of Jason Richardson, Shane Battier, Joe Johnson, Richard Jefferson, and more).
This draft’s potential culprit: Zack Collins, Ike Anigbogu, Tony Bradley. All three of these young players could end up being selected as first-rounders despite not having been among the top four or five players on their own college teams last year. Collins is tall and offensively gifted on both ends of the floor, creating that prototypical “stretch-five” that has become a staple in the modern NBA, while Anigbogu is a defensive freak with a highlight reel that would make any NBA scout drool. Bradley, meanwhile, is a fringe first-round selection based on potential alone. He showed flashes of brilliance at UNC but only played 14.6 minutes per game as a freshman last year. None of these guys played big minutes, but teams still are likely to make big bets on their talent, minutes be damned.
#4 – Trying to find the next big international success
Why they do it: Because nothing makes a GM look smarter when he pulls a diamond from the rough of overseas professional basketball. Also, there are times when a team wants to take advantage of a foreign market for financial reasons, and that helps fuel drafting an international prospect as well.
Despite their popularity, though, not all of these international kids will work out. There’s huge flop potential for these unproven players, but as long as there is a Kristaps Porzingis or Giannis Antetokounmpo or Rudy Gobert to be found, teams will keep digging.
Case in point: Georgios Papagiannis (Sacramento, 13th pick in the 2016 draft), Bruno Caboclo (Toronto, 20th pick in the 2014 draft), Lucas Nogueira (Atlanta, 16th pick in the 2013 draft), Jan Vesely (Washington, 6th pick in the 2011 draft), Yi Jianlian (Milwaukee, 6th pick in 2007 draft), Fran Vasquez (Orlando, 11th pick in 2005 draft), Darko Milicic (Detroit, 2nd pick in 2003 draft), Nikoloz Tskitishvili (Denver, 5th pick in 2002 draft).
This draft’s potential culprit: Frank Ntilikina, Rodionss Kurucs, Isaiah Hartenstein. These days, when teams are looking at the next crop of stud international stars, they approach the process in much the same way they do for domestic prospects. Size, length, and athleticism trump all, which leads to scouts tracking down buzzy international kids who weren’t big contributors on their international teams, usually because they were so much younger than their more established professional teammates.
Ntilikina is the highest-rated international player this year, having averaged 5.1 points and 1.4 assists as a reserve point guard for Strasbourg last season. Kurucs averaged 9.5 point and 2.8 rebounds for his Spanish team, and Hartenstein posted a miserly one point and 0.8 rebounds in Lithuania. The risks for these players are the same as for Anigbogu and Collins, though perhaps more heavily weighted because of how little teams have seen of them.
#3– Drafting big
Why they do it: Because you can’t teach height. The best seven-footers in league history have been borderline unstoppable, so teams often find themselves erring on the side of tallness. There have been myriad times when a tall, unskilled player has been selected over a smaller, much more skilled one, and it’s all done with the hope that a team will strike it rich with an influential big guy. Unfortunately, the list of gigantic flops (pun intended) is pretty depressing, and this is a mistake GMs will never stop making because the potential payoff is entirely too big. Literally.
Case in point: Jakob Poltl (Toronto, 9th pick in the 2016 draft), Frank Kaminsky (Charlotte, 9th pick in the 2015 draft), Meyers Leonard (Portland, 11th pick in the 2012 draft), Bismack Biyombo (Charlotte, 7th pick, 2011), Hasheem Thabeet (Memphis, 2nd pick in 2009 draft), Patrick O’Bryant (Golden State, 9th pick in 2006 draft), Mouhammed Saer Sene (Seattle, 10th pick in 2006 draft), Pavel Podkolzin (Utah, 21st pick in 2004 draft), Sagana Diop (Cleveland, 8th pick in the 2001 draft).
This draft’s potential culprit: Jonathan Jeanne, Anzejs Pasecniks. NBA teams love a good tall guy, even as the NBA has turned away from more traditional fives, in large part because protecting the rim and hauling in rebounds never will go out of style. Unfortunately, big guys are very often slow guys, and sometimes unathletic guys, too, and that’s where organizations have run into trouble in the past.
At 7-foot-2, French player Jonathan Jeanne is a mouth-watering prospect, even if he looks like he could simply blow away in a moderate breeze. His height doesn’t guarantee dominance at the NBA level. Pasecniks also is 7-foot-2, but while he’s a little more sturdily built, he still only managed to haul in 3.1 rebounds per contest for his Spanish team last year. Guys that tall with any sort of athleticism are intriguing, but outside of the elite prospects, it’s rare that those inhumanly tall players end up wiggling their way onto All-Star teams and All-NBA teams.
#2– Drafting undersized players
Why they do it: This is most common when it comes to drafting 5-foot-11 point guards and 6-foot-7 power forwards, and success stories like Isaiah Thomas, Muggsy Bogues, Spud Webb, Charles Barkley, Carlos Boozer and Dennis Rodman are enough to make GMs think that success can be repeated. These players all are/were awesome in their primes, but too often we see teams take risks on guys that are clearly too small to play their best position in the NBA because there’s this delusive phantom of hope that talent always transcends size. Occasionally, that can be true, but more often, the end result is players who are physically overpowered at the next level.
There’s a reason guys like this often slip to the second round; teams don’t want to guarantee contracts to players they aren’t sure can make it to the next level. Occasionally, though, these guys go way, way higher than they should, and that’s where the biggest mistakes are made.
Case in point: Johny Flynn (5-foot-9, 6th pick in 2009 draft), Ike Diogu (6-foot-8, 9th pick in 2005 draft), Sean May (6-foot-8, 13th pick in 2005 draft), Mike Sweetney (6-foot-8, 9th pick in the 2003 draft), Speedy Claxton (5-foot-11, 20th pick in 2000 draft)
This draft’s potential culprit: Frank Mason. In some ways, not drafting a great player because of his size could be seen as its own mistake. Kansas’ Frank Mason, for example, was one of the best players in college basketball last season but risks not getting drafted at all because he doesn’t crack six feet. Teams love him on a personal level, but can’t stomach the idea of taking a guard prospect that could be overwhelmed by the size of players with five or six inches on him at his same position. He was a great college player, but any team drafting him will have to bet that success can translate on the next level. If it doesn’t, Mason could be a wasted pick.
#1– Drafting for need over best player available
Why they do it: Because it’s the logical thing to do. Logic doesn’t always equal success, however, and that means we’ve seen some very logical picks go very wrong in the past. If you’re the Portland Trail Blazers in 1984 and you’ve already got Clyde Drexler, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to draft Michael Jordan, does it?
It can also go right, but occasionally this tactic gets GMs into trouble. In the big picture of big mistakes, however, this isn’t the worst one by far.
Case in point: Sam Bowie (2nd pick in 1984 draft, ahead of Michael Jordan), Darko Milicic (Detroit, 2nd pick in 2003 draft, ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade).
This draft’s potential culprit: Philadelphia 76ers. If everything goes according to plan, the Boston Celtics and L.A. Lakers will take the two best players in this draft in Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball with the top two picks, which means the Sixers will be gifted the opportunity to either take the best player available or try to find the best fit for the rebuild that really has started to come together for them.
In this draft, it’s hard to go wrong, but so much has been made of Philadelphia needing a point guard that it’s easy to see them going after a player like De’Aaron Fox. He doesn’t shoot three-pointers any better than most of the rest of that roster, though, and Ben Simmons is expected to do a good amount of the team’s ball handling this season. In this case, drafting at a position of need might not actually be the best fit. Josh Jackson, arguably the best player available at number three if Ball and Fultz are off the board, could be the better long-term prospect for the Sixers.
Nobody’s perfect, and as our own fantasy basketball and fantasy football teams prove year-in and year-out, we all kind of suck at putting teams together in our own special ways.
The lesson to be learned is that it apparently is best to shoot for the stars with long, athletic, relatively young players with the highest possible ceilings. College pedigree is preferred but not necessarily requisite, and staying away big stiffs and overly-obscure international prospects improves odds of success. Take the best player available, regardless of “team need,” and hope that a player’s measurable and character live up to their potential.
If all teams could draft like that, our Basketball Insiders mock drafts likely would be a whole lot more accurate.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”