Back in October, weeks before the season began, before we really had any idea what would lie ahead of us in the year to come, I made a whole bunch of predictions about what would happen in the NBA over the course of the next nine months. I do this every year, with increasingly comedic results, but even though it never stops being embarrassing to come back to the moronic things I thought would be true all the way back in in the fall, I can’t help but think that readers sure do enjoy a good cold take.
And that’s what these are, essentially—a subzero bucket of dry-ice-freezing cold takes. I nailed some, as I usually do, but the misses are pretty nasty. Read, enjoy, and berate without prejudice. Here they are, my 50 predictions for the 2016-2017 NBA season, revisited:
James Harden is going to lead the league in scoring with over 31.0 PPG.
WRONG. I meant to say Russell Westbrook, obviously. I got everything right except the name! It’s not like Harden wasn’t close, though. He finished second among all scorers with 29.1 PPG.
Hassan Whiteside is going to lead the league in blocks with over 3.8 BPG.
WRONG. Not even close. Whiteside finished fourth in blocks per game, averaging 2.1 per game. Even the league leader, Rudy Gobert, finished with just 2.64 BPG. Nobody came close to 3.0 per contest this year, let alone 3.8.
Jonas Valanciunas will finish among the top rebounders in the league.
RIGHT. Valanciunas finished with the 12th most rebounds in the NBA this year with 779, behind all the usual mainstays but ahead of Nikola Jokic, Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Andre Drummond, however, will once again lead the league in rebounds, this time with over 15 RPG.
WRONG. Whiteside did lead in this category, with Drummond and his 13.8 RPG finishing in second place.
Last year’s assist king Rajon Rondo (11.7 APG) will see his assists-per-game average drop under 10.0 per game.
RIGHT. Harden, Westbrook and John Wall were the only players to average double-digits in assists this year. Rondo averaged only 6.7 APG in the regular season.
Kevin Durant will score fewer than 25 PPG for the first time in his career since his rookie season.
WRONG. But barely. In 62 games this year, Durant averaged 25.1 PPG, still his lowest scoring output since his rookie season.
Karl-Anthony Towns will make his first All-Star team.
WRONG. While Towns had a perfectly lovely season, the loaded frontcourt position out west and team woes for the Wolves kept him out this year. It’s coming, though, and soon.
Zach LaVine will win the Dunk Contest for the third consecutive year.
WRONG. His injury kept him from even competing. To be fair, though, had he competed he would’ve won that horrible dunk contest by a bajillion points.
Derrick Rose will play in fewer than 60 games.
WRONG. This is getting frustrating. Rose played only 64 games, which is more or less what I expected to have happen this season. I just undershot those missed games by four.
The Golden State Warriors will win fewer than 70 games.
RIGHT. They may have won 70 again had Durant not gotten hurt, but there’s nothing wrong with 67.
As a team, the Boston Celtics will lead the league in rebounds.
WRONG. I’m trying to figure out what I was thinking here. With most of these predictions, especially the ones that I missed, it’s easy to think, “Yeah, but I can see what he was thinking.” Not with this one. Boston was near the bottom of the league in rebounding this year. It’s not like Al Horford was going to add a lot of boards per game. I’m an idiot sometimes.
The Utah Jazz will average over 101 PPG.
WRONG. The sound you just heard was me punching through the drywall in my living room. Utah averaged 100.7 PPG as a team this year.
The Houston Rockets will attempt more three-pointers per game than the Golden State Warriors.
RIGHT. And so did the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets. The Rockets led the league with an insane 40.3 three-point attempts a game, while the Warriors finished fifth in that category with 31.2. The Rockets, for what it’s worth, also knocked down an extra 2.4 threes per game, too.
For the second consecutive year, the Phoenix Suns will lead the league in turnovers.
WRONG. The Sixers took home the turnover crows this year, with 16.0 per night. Phoenix at least was kind enough to finish fourth in this category with 14.9 turnovers per game.
The San Antonio Spurs will lead the league in defensive efficiency.
RIGHT. The Spurs topped all teams with a defensive efficiency of 100.9. Not surprising when they’ve got a two-time Defensive Player of the Year on the roster.
The Chicago Bulls will finish among the top six in team assists.
WRONG. The Bulls were nowhere near sixth in the NBA in assists. In fact, they were 17th with 17.0 APG per game, which probably is a byproduct of lots of isolation offense and entirely inefficient point guard play all season long.
Ben Simmons will not play a single game for the Philadelphia 76ers this season.
RIGHT. I hate that I was right about this, but it’s sort of a Sixers tradition to have a rookie sit the whole season. What kind of person would Simmons have been to have broken that? Markelle Fultz is currently walking around Philadelphia with queen-size mattresses wrapped around his knees.
Buddy Hield will lead all rookies in three-pointers made.
RIGHT. And it wasn’t even close. Hield dropped in 148 three-pointers this season, while the second-place rookie shooter from deep, Jamal Murray, poured in 115.
Kris Dunn will not play as many minutes as Ricky Rubio in Minnesota.
RIGHT. Rubio almost doubled Dunn’s floor time, 32.9 MPG to 17.1 MPG.
Thon Maker will show flashes, but won’t make much of an impact in his rookie season, failing to haul in either five points or five rebounds per game.
RIGHT. Maker grew increasingly effective as the season wore on, even starting games in the playoffs, but in his 57 regular season games this year he averaged only 4.0 PPG and 2.0 RPG.
Brandon Ingram will score well, but will not lead all rookies in scoring.
RIGHT. He wasn’t even close. Hield, Murray, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Malcolm Brogdon and Yogi Ferrell all scored more points per game than the No. 2 overall selection in the 2016 NBA Draft. There will be a day when it will look ridiculous that he wasn’t higher up on that list.
The Toronto Raptors will not have homecourt advantage in the first-round of the playoffs.
WRONG. After finishing with the third-best record in the Eastern Conference, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors earned homecourt in their first round matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Charlotte Hornets, meanwhile, will be a top-four team in the Eastern Conference.
WRONG. Yeah, no. That didn’t happen.
The Indiana Pacers will play in the Eastern Conference Finals this year.
WRONG. Nor did this.
The Dallas Mavericks will not make the Playoffs.
RIGHT. I was correct on this account, however. An aging Dirk Nowitzki and relatively thin talent in other areas meant the Mavs weren’t able to sneak into the 2017 postseason.
Neither will the Memphis Grizzlies.
WRONG. At the time I made this prediction, I was thinking that Memphis’ style was antiquated and that the roster was uninspired. Despite all that, they still ended up four games above .500 and slotted a 7-seed against the San Antonio Spurs.
This year’s Finals will be a rematch of last year’s Finals between the Golden State Warriors and defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
RIGHT. Not the riskiest prediction, but here we are.
Yes, the Golden State Warriors will win the championship.
RIGHT. But I don’t have to be happy about it.
Joel Embiid will win Rookie of the Year
WRONG. Easily the leader among rookies in points and rebounds, Embiid would have run away with the award had he played anything remotely close to a full season, but with only 31 games under his belt it was impossible to give him the accolade. Instead, it went (rather surprisingly) to Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon.
Russell Westbrook will be named the MVP
RIGHT. He dominated the first-place votes in a year when he averaged a triple-double. I made this prediction thinking he’d go into what Bill Simmons calls “F You Mode,” but no one really thought he’d actually average a triple-double. What a year from an amazing player, the first in decades to win MVP for a sub-50-win team.
Zach Randolph will be named the 6th Man of the Year
WRONG. In most cases, when a player pours in 14.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game off the bench, he gets consideration for the year’s top accolade for reserves, but Randolph wasn’t even a finalist. He had a solid year as a reserve, but not as good as the actual winner, Eric Gordon.
Kawhi Leonard will be the Defensive Player of the Year for the third time in a row.
WRONG. Finally, it was Draymond Green’s time to “steal” this one away from Kawhi (get it?). Either guy could have won the award, but it was time to spread the love. Green absolutely deserved the award.
Brad Stevens will be the Coach of the Year
WRONG. Even though the Celtics shockingly finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference, Stevens wasn’t a finalist for this award, which make sense considering the years Mike D’Antoni had with the Rockets and Erik Spoelstra had with the HEAT.
Kenneth Faried will be shopped but ultimately will remain a Denver Nugget for the entire season yet again.
RIGHT. Somehow, someway, Faried made it through the year as a Nugget.
The 76ers will find a place for either Jahlil Okafor or Nerlens Noel this season.
RIGHT. It looked like Okafor was going to be the one shipped out, but ultimately it was Noel who got the boot. If Philly can find a taker, Okafor will be out the door this summer, too.
Brandon Knight will be unhappy and underutilized in Phoenix, but despite that he will not be traded this season.
RIGHT. Phoenix has a loaded backcourt, but they haven’t done anything with Knight or Bledsoe, yet…
This is the year that Sacramento finally trades Rudy Gay. It’s happening.
WRONG. Had he not gotten hurt this absolutely would have happened. Damn the basketball gods!
This is not the year that Sacramento finally trades DeMarcus Cousins, however. Players that good are too important to let walk.
WRONG. This prediction was the setup, and the actual trade was the punchline.
The Orlando Magic will trade one of their frontcourt players before the deadline.
RIGHT. Too many cooks in that kitchen led Orlando to send off, of all people, the newly-acquired Serge Ibaka for very little in return. They essentially let Victor Oladipo walk to get their mitts on Terrence Ross. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a downgrade.
The Chicago Bulls will lead the league in attendance.
RIGHT. I won’t stop making this prediction until it stops being right.
The Brooklyn Nets will win the draft lottery.
RIGHT. Unfortunately they didn’t get to keep the pick. It ended up going to Boston, who traded it to Philadelphia.
There will be a new collective bargaining agreement in place before the end of the season.
RIGHT. And praise all of the gods that people praise for so swift a resolution. Nobody wanted another strike.
While not all of these distinguished writers are still with Basketball Insiders, they were back in the fall, and they each made a prediction of their own. Here’s how those panned out:
Oliver Maroney: James Harden will be MVP.
WRONG. If only Oliver were as smart as me when it comes to picking MVPs. It’s fine, though. At least he has something toward which to strive.
Ben Dowsett: The Memphis Grizzlies will miss the playoffs.
WRONG. They got in.
Jonathan Concool: The Minnesota Timberwolves will make the playoffs.
WRONG. They did not.
Jesse Blancarte: Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson will play at least 70 regular season games.
RIGHT. Of all the bold predictions, this one may have been the boldest. Gordon and Anderson are two of the most injured players of their era, and their prolonged health this season is a big part of why the Rockets were so good all year long.
Jabari Davis: The Minnesota Timberwolves will win more games than the Oklahoma City Thunder.
WRONG. My colleagues are nuts. This one was every bit as bad as the one about the Celtics leading the league in rebounds. Okay, so maybe not that bad.
Alex Kennedy: Russell Westbrook will record 25 triple-doubles this season.
RIGHT. We all know Westbrook broke the NBA record this season and racked up 42 triple-doubles. The real win here is that Kennedy actually was right about something for once.
Cody Taylor: The Miami HEAT will finish about .500 and make the playoffs.
WRONG. Oh, Cody. So close. Just like the actual .500 Miami HEAT and their playoff hopes, dashed by a tiebreaker.
Lang Greene: Dwight Howard will be named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
WRONG. Howard earned no such accolade this year. He averaged 13.5 PPG and 12.7 RPG this year, but there weren’t even whispers about him potentially making the All-Star team when voting was wrapping up. He wasn’t even close.
Come fall, I’ll be back in the saddle, making insane predictions. This year, I was 21 for 42 in my predictions, frankly one of my better win percentages ever, while my colleagues were just 2 for 8, but we’ll all try to improve next year. What’s an NBA preseason without a few hot takes, after all?
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.”
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