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NBA Daily: Ranking the Free Agents – Shooting Guards

Basketball Insiders continues its series examining the free agent class of 2019 by position. To start, Jordan Hicks looks at the best available shooting guards on the market.

Jordan Hicks

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Basketball Insiders has recently started a new series detailing the top free agents by position as a primer for the free agency period beginning on July 1.

In continuing where Drew Maresca left off with top point guard targets, we will now take a look at the top 10 shooting guards that are headed to free agency.

Before getting into the actual free agents, here’s a look at what the salary cap numbers project to be. The NBA’s salary cap is expected to jump from $101 million to $109 million this offseason. Based on that, here are the projected numbers for max contracts:

$27,250,000 for players with 0-6 years of experience

$32,700,000 for players with 7-9 years of experience

$38,150,000 for players with 10+ years of experience

In addition, the mid-level exception for teams in the first year is expected to be $9,246,000, while the taxpayer MLE is expected to be $5,711,000 and the room MLE is expected to be $4,760,000.

If you want a full list of players in the pool, feel free to refer to this page for a list of all the notable free agents-to-be.

Without further ado, here are the shooting guards that are sure to make the biggest splashes in free agency.

Max Guys

Klay Thompson – Golden State Warriors – Last Year’s Salary: $18,988,725

Klay Thompson is arguably the best shooting guard this free agency, period – and he certainly has an argument for best in the league. Not only is he historically one of the best shooters the league has ever seen, but he’s also been one of the most important – if not the most important – defenders on his team.

He’s shot a career 41.9 percent from three-point range on seven attempts per night. Before Kevin Durant buddied up with Golden State, Klay’s shooting was relied upon nightly. The past three seasons it seems like he’s only had to swoop in and be the savior every third or fourth game. Regardless, he has immense talent in multiple areas on the court and his services could essentially be used on any team in the league.

If you have forgotten just how lethal Klay has the ability to be, just look up the record for most points in a quarter. To save you some time – it’s Thompson. 37 points to be exact. If a single team scored 37 per quarter that’d be 148 points per game. That’s pretty good if you didn’t know already.

To the dismay of Thompson, he wasn’t named to an All-NBA team this season, so he isn’t eligible for the Supermax contract. Despite whatever team he lands with, however, fully expect Klay to get a max deal. He isn’t worth anything less.

Where Does He Fit: Like previously mentioned, Thompson could fit on literally any roster. He is quite honestly the best three-and-D player in the league and the standard by which all others should be judged. Before the playoffs began – and more-or-less through the first two rounds – there were rumors going around the Klay was getting sick of his role with the Warriors and would consider seeking other options.

Pre-injury Klay was thought to be interested in signing with a different team. His ACL tear has led many to believe he will stay at home and finish his career off with the Warriors. They can offer him an extra year and more guaranteed money. Not many players have the ability to garner a max deal the summer after tearing their ACL, but Klay is one of the few.

New Deal: Thompson will sign a 5 year/$190 million and stay with the Warriors. Pending other free agent decisions, the Warriors will bank on their new arena to help fill the incredible, imminent debt sure to be left by the luxury tax bill. Klay should hopefully be back by next March at the latest ready to help Golden State go after yet another title.

Jimmy Butler – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Year’s Salary: $20,445,779

Jimmy Buckets has already declined his player option for the 2019-20 season, which by all accounts was a smart move. He would’ve made just a hair under $20 million, but we all know he is more valuable than that. You might find a few people who would argue his personality and locker room antics negate his worthiness for a max deal, but those few are wrong. Jimmy Butler is the second best shooting guard available this summer, and he most certainly merits a max contract.

While his three-point shooting can be streaky, he’s still a career 34.1 percent from deep. He didn’t earn his nickname by accident; he’s the kind of player that can get you a bucket when one is sorely needed. He has an excellent mid-range game, has the athleticism to get around above-average defenders and can finish at the rim with the best of them.

Butler’s real value is found on the other end, though. As good as he is on offense, Butler’s tenacity on defense is where his true skills lie. He’s long, quick, gets into passing lanes and frustrates the best offensive players.

And please, let’s not forget the beginning of the season where Butler took the third-stringers and wiped the remaining Minnesota starters all over the court in the practice heard ’round the world.

Where Does He Fit: Butler fits quite well in his current situation with Philadelphia. There were reports early on there that he wasn’t happy with his lack of touches, but those rumors never quite grew to anything much more than, well, rumors. Out of him and Tobias Harris, Butler clearly gives you the better chance at a title – mainly due to his contributions on both ends. The Lakers, Clippers and Knicks are all teams with cap space that will certainly try and go after Butler. The Lakers could use someone with better shooting, though.

Recent reports have surfaced saying the Rockets are interested in Butler, but their cap situation is too tricky to bring anyone else on, so it would have to be via sign-and-trade. The Rockets would likely have to give up part of their core to get Butler, so we shall see how that situation plays out.

New Deal: Many teams will call, but Butler will probably sign a 5 year/$190 million deal with the 76ers. They give him the best chance at a title and the most guaranteed money to boot.

Near Max Guys

J.J. Redick – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Year’s Salary: $12,250,000

For someone who is turning 35 this upcoming season, you wouldn’t expect them to be garnering near max dollars. J.J. Redick has had quite an interesting career arch. He struggled heavily with injuries and didn’t really have much of an impact during his first eight-or-so seasons. He found his first home with the Clippers and now – it seems – his second with the 76ers.

No one would have guessed that Redick would have a career-high 18.1 points per night in his age 34 season. He was tied for seventh in the league at eight three-point attempts per night and played a critical role on a 76ers team that struggled to find spacing all year. For a team that has unbelievable talent in Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler, it’s amazing just how important Redick is.

Where Does He Fit: Redick is not headed to a team with a younger core. He likely has one to two good years left in him. The Lakers need shooting and may be able to offer him enough money to lure him out of Philadelphia. The 76ers have Early Bird Rights and can offer him up to $21 million.

New Deal: Redick will likely stay in Philadelphia for somewhere around 2 years/$32 million. Many reports have surfaced about how much he loves it there. That deal isn’t near max, but Redick is more focused on titles than money.

Above Mid-Level Guys

Danny Green – Toronto Raptors – Last Year’s Salary: $10,000,000

Green is coming off one of his best seasons to date. For one, he won another NBA championship. He shot 45.5 percent from three off 5.4 attempts per night – the former being a career high and the latter almost matching one. He hasn’t appeared to lose much athleticism with age and is still a very talented defender. He’ll be turning 32 this season and still appears to have a few good years left towards another run at a title.

Where Does He Fit: Like Thompson, Green is about as ideal a role player as you’d want (although Thompson is clearly much more than a role player). Green is your prototypical three-and-D player, and he proved his immense value during the season with Toronto. Going to whoever offers him the most money makes the most sense, but he’d fit in incredibly well with the Utah Jazz, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers. But in all honesty, you name a team and he’d help them improve.

New Deal: Green recently appeared on The Breakfast Club and discussed his desire to return to Toronto. The Raptors have no reason to let Green walk, so Danny should sign a 3 year/$45 million deal to stay in Canada. A caveat to this, however, is if Kawhi Leonard leaves in free agency. If he leaves, Toronto may not prioritize keeping Green – and he may hear offers from other teams in a similar range.

Jeremy Lamb – Charlotte Hornets – Last Year’s Salary: $7,488,372

Lamb just had a career year – highs in points, rebounds, steals and almost assists. His usage increased quite a bit, and with that came a slight decrease in efficiency. Nothing too alarming, but that could be one of the reasons he won’t garner anything near a max offer sheet. He’ll inject an offensive boost to whatever team signs him. And if his two game-winners against Toronto late last season pull any weight, he might get a few extra dollars on that contract.

Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak has recently stated his desire to keep the team under the tax threshold. If they bring back Kemba Walker, signing Lamb to a new deal likely won’t happen. The Rockets have expressed their interest, and Lamb is the kind of player they may be able to get. Houston could nab Jeremy Lamb for 3 years/$25 million thanks to the MLE.

Rodney Hood – Portland Trail Blazers – Last Year’s Salary: $3,472,888

There was a time in Hood’s career where a near max deal was certainly in play when he was averaging 17 points a night for the Jazz at just 25 years old. Partially due to his streaky play – as well as the surprise emergence of one Donovan Mitchell – Hood found himself traded, released and then picked up by the Portland Trail Blazers last season.

Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Hood played incredibly well for Portland in the playoffs averaging nearly 10 points per game on an impressive 46.8 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from three. He’s only 26 and still has time to further develop his game. Portland trading for Bazemore could be a sign that they won’t be able to use their MLE to lock up Hood, so look for Hood to garner multiple offers from a handful of teams looking to add scoring such as the Lakers, Nets, Mavericks and Heat. Let’s say he goes to the Mavericks for 3 years/$30 million.

Terrence Ross – Orlando Magic – Last Year’s Salary: $10,500,000

Terrence Ross balled out this year. He had career highs in points, rebounds, assists and nearly a career-high effective field goal percentage at 53.4 percent. He was one of the more important players that led the Magic back to the playoffs for the first time in quite a few years. Ross is only 27, so he’s sure to garner plenty of attention on the market.

Where Does He Fit/New Deal: The Magic have made it clear they want to keep their core together – as long as it makes sense. Many teams will likely offer Ross decent offer sheets, teams that need offense such as the Pelicans, Pistons and even the next door neighbor Miami Heat. Ross might ultimately stay with the Magic on a short term, 2 year/$35 million deal.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – Los Angeles Lakers – Last Year’s Salary: $12,000,000

Pope hasn’t helped himself much since leaving Detroit. His efficiency has dropped, his scoring has dropped and his defense – once his strong suit – hasn’t made much noise either. Still, his ability to score has to intrigue multiple franchises looking for someone who can create offense. He made $12 million last year and will likely get less than that. Pope finished the season on a high-point, so that could help him get a few extra digits in his contract.

Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Teams love players who can score, but with the emergence and importance of the three-ball, they want someone who can do so efficiently. Pope, just 25 years old, has proven he can be efficient in the past, but he hasn’t been in the league long enough to make teams certain it’ll last. The Knicks might strike out on getting two max-level players, so they could be scrambling to sign others guys to help put points on the board. Pope signs with New York on a 2 year/$20 million deal.

Wesley Matthews – Indiana Pacers – Last Year’s Salary: $512,746

Matthews made more money last year than the above salary shows. He was bought out by the New York Knicks and ended up with the Pacers after Indiana needed someone to fill the injured Victor Oladipo’s void. He played okay for Indiana, but he just hasn’t found the same level of play since leaving Portland six seasons ago. Still, Matthews has the ability to help many teams in the league, especially in a bench role.

Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Matthews is 32, has a torn achilles in his past and definitely doesn’t move as quickly as he used to. It’s hard to say who would be interested in Matthews, but it’s likely going to be a playoff team who doesn’t end up landing a max guy. Look for teams like Philadelphia, both Los Angeles teams or potentially the Nets or Bucks to go after Matthews. Ultimately, the Bucks may see a few key guys leave, so signing Matthews to a 2 year/$12 million contract would help.

Mid-Level or Below Guys

Austin Rivers – Houston Rockets – Last Year’s Salary: $922,943

Rivers found himself as a legitimate sixth man on Houston this past season and actually played fairly well in the playoffs. Per Tim McMahon of ESPN, Austin Rivers had the highest individual net rating in the Rockets-Warriors series at plus-18.5 per 100 possessions. Pretty impressive for a player who hasn’t clearly played up to the hype coming out of college. There will be teams interested in Rivers come free agency time, but any deals with him will happen after a handful of dominos fall first.

Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Rivers will probably end back with the Rockets. Houston won’t find anyone better than Rivers using their MLE, so they’ll bring back the player who already has chemistry with the team. He’ll sign for 2 years/$9 million, preserving some of the MLE for Houston to use on other targets.

Other Notable Free Agents

Seth Curry – Portland Trail Blazers – Last Year’s Salary: $2,795,000

Tomas Satoransky* – Washington Wizards – Last Year’s Salary: $3,129,187

Reggie Bullock – Los Angeles Lakers – Last Year’s Salary: $2,500,000

Wayne Ellington – Detroit Pistons – Last Year’s Salary: $2,383,076

Alec Burks – Sacramento Kings – Last Year’s Salary: $11,536,515

Jonathon Simmons** – Washington Wizards – Last Year’s Salary: $6,000,000

Iman Shumpert – Houston Rockets – Last Year’s Salary: $11,011,234

J.R. Smith** – Cleveland Cavaliers – Last Year’s Salary: $14,720,000

Vince Carter – Atlanta Hawks – Last Year’s Salary: $2,393,887

Pat Connaughton**– Milwaukee Bucks – Last Year’s Salary: $1,641,000

Alex Abrines* – Oklahoma City Thunder – Last Year’s Salary: $5,455,326

Justin Holiday – Memphis Grizzlies – Last Year’s Salary: $4,384,616

Nik Stauskas – Cleveland Cavaliers – Last Year’s Salary: $2,161,886

Kyle Korver**– Utah Jazz – Last Year’s Salary: $7,560,000

Jamal Crawford – Phoenix Suns – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601

Lance Stephenson – Los Angeles Lakers – Last Year’s Salary: $4,449,000

Dwayne Bacon** – Charlotte Hornets – Last Year’s Salary: $1,378,242

Sterling Brown** – Milwaukee Bucks – Last Year’s Salary: $1,378,242

Garrett Temple – Los Angeles Clippers – Last Year’s Salary: $8,000,000

Gerald Green – Houston Rockets – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601

Sindarius Thornwell** – Los Angeles Clippers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,378,242

Wayne Selden* – Chicago Bulls – Last Year’s Salary: $1,544,951

Patrick McCaw* – Toronto Raptors – Last Year’s Salary: $964,104

Furkan Korkmaz – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,740,000

Rodney McGruder* – Los Angeles Clippers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,544,951

David Nwaba* – Cleveland Cavaliers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601

Troy Daniels – Phoenix Suns – Last Year’s Salary: $3,258,539

*Qualifying Offer (If made and accepted, player becomes restricted free agent)

**Non-Guaranteed Contract (If player is waived by current team before contract becomes fully guaranteed, he becomes unrestricted free agent)

There are plenty of good role players to go around in this deep pool of shooting guards. This list is quite top heavy so any team dreaming of an ideal two-guard will likely need to settle for a solid role-guy and look for their star player in another position. Whatever two teams are lucky enough to lock in Butler and Thompson long term will be very pleased as either of those shooting guards gives you a high chance of winning playoff games.

Look for Basketball Insiders to continue their saga on upcoming free agents by positions as there are still the threes, fours, and fives! Until then, start preparing now for the upcoming madness that is the free agency period.

Jordan Hicks is an NBA writer based out of Salt Lake City. He is a former college athlete and varsity sports official. Find him on Twitter @JordanHicksNBA.

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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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