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NBA PM: 8 Underrated Free Agent Signings

Alex Kennedy gives his list of this offseason’s most underrated free agent signings.

Alex Kennedy

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This summer, many of the NBA’s top free agents decided to re-sign with their respective teams. LeBron James, Marc Gasol, Jimmy Butler, Kevin Love, Kawhi Leonard, DeAndre Jordan, Dwyane Wade and many others chose to stay put rather than join a new franchise.

With that said, there were some big-name players who changed teams. LaMarcus Aldridge and David West signed with the San Antonio Spurs. Greg Monroe decided to bolt to the Milwaukee Bucks. Wesley Matthews inked a max deal with the Dallas Mavericks. Monta Ellis landed with the Indiana Pacers. Rajon Rondo joined the Sacramento Kings. These were among the moves that received the most attention this offseason, and understandably so.

However, there were many other notable acquisitions that seemed to fly under the radar a bit. Today, let’s take a look at what, in my opinion, were the most underrated signings of the NBA offseason.

Mo Williams to the Cleveland Cavaliers

Most of the Cavaliers’ offseason moves involved re-signing their own players, but they did make one big addition in Williams. The agreement was finalized in the first week of free agency when everyone was still focused on the big-name players, so the move didn’t get as much attention as it should have. However, Williams will make Cleveland much better next year and his contract is a bargain. He will make $2,100,000 in year one and $2,194,500 in year two (although he does have a player option for the second season). Remember, Williams averaged 14.2 points and 6.2 assists last year during his stints with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Charlotte Hornets. He will be an excellent sixth man for Cleveland, and he gives the Cavs a reliable back-up behind Kyrie Irving should he sustain another injury. Not to mention, Williams showed that he can still be very effective as a starting point guard last season; in 33 games as a starter, he averaged 17.8 points and 7.6 assists. Rather than having to rely heavily on Matthew Dellavedova again, Cleveland now has a veteran floor general to run their second unit and step in for Irving if necessary. Williams’ game fits with the Cavs too since he can knock down open shots and he has chemistry with LeBron James from their first stint together in Cleveland.

Amir Johnson to the Boston Celtics

Johnson is one of the more underrated big men in the NBA, so it’s no surprise that his two-year, $24 million contract with the Celtics didn’t get more attention. Johnson will certainly improve Boston’s frontcourt by producing on both ends of the court and doing the little things that make a team better, but he’s a great signing for financial reasons as well. His deal is actually a steal since only the first year is guaranteed. The Celtics will pay Johnson $12 million this season, and then his $12 million salary the 2016-17 campaign is completely non-guaranteed. That gives Boston some options: they can keep him for a second year, waive him to shed salary or – and this is perhaps most attractive – trade his non-guaranteed deal to another team. Johnson’s contract could be a valuable trade chip for Boston next summer, giving the Celtics some real flexibility (especially since they have a ton of first-round picks and young players to package with Johnson’s deal). This was a terrific move for Boston for a ton of reasons – on and off the court.

Gerald Green to the Miami HEAT

Green agreed to his deal with Miami around the same time as Amar’e Stoudemire, which may have been why his signing didn’t generate much discussion. Miami deserves credit for landing Green and Stoudemire at $947,276 apiece. It’s not a huge surprise to see Stoudemire sign a bargain contract since he has shown signs of decline in recent seasons and is at the point in his 13-year career where he just wants to win. But it was somewhat of a shock to see the 29-year-old Green settle for the minimum considering he’s in his prime. Last season, Green did see his role diminish with the Phoenix Suns as he averaged 11.9 points in just 19.5 minutes per game. It was a down year compared to the season before, when he had the best campaign of his career (averaging 15.8 points and 3.4 rebounds in 28.4 minutes and shooting 40 percent from three-point range). It seems he’s betting on himself with this contract, as he’s hoping to play well enough with the HEAT to land a more lucrative contract next summer. This could work out well for Green, especially since he should be a good fit with the HEAT and will certainly have a chance to carve out a significant role. He’ll likely be the team’s sixth man, and he could even start a bit given Dwyane Wade’s tendency to rest and miss games. Green and Stoudemire were high-value additions for Miami who should improve the team’s depth.

Bismack Biyombo to the Toronto Raptors

Biyombo and the Raptors agreed to terms on a contract very early in free agency, yet I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. It just doesn’t make sense that Toronto was able to get the 22-year-old big man for just $2,814,000 this season (followed by a $2,940,630 player option for the second year). This summer, crazy contracts were handed out left and right (Aron Baynes inked a three-year, $19.5 million deal with the Detroit Pistons!), but Biyombo will make less than $3 million this season. This is an absolute steal for Masai Ujiri. Yes, Biyombo hasn’t lived up to the expectations of being the No. 7 pick in 2011, but he has been a good rim protector and that alone is worth what Toronto is paying him. Over his first four years in the NBA, he averaged 1.6 blocks in 21 minutes per game. Also, consider how he’s looked when he’s gotten more minutes: In 21 games as a starter last season, he averaged 6.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 27 minutes. His stats per-36-minutes were 8.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. The point is that Biyombo has put up solid numbers and remains an intriguing project since he’s just 22 years old. He has struggled on the offensive end and he does need to get more comfortable on the floor, but it’s way too early to give up on him. He can still help a team as a shot-blocker, especially on a $2,814,000 salary. This was one of my favorite contracts of the summer since it’s a low-risk, high-reward move that could really pay off for Toronto.

Al-Farouq Aminu to the Portland Trail Blazers

Most of the headlines surrounding the Blazers’ offseason had to do with the team moving on without almost all of their veterans (LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Steve Blake, etc.) and building around Damian Lillard, who signed a five-year extension. However, Portland general manager Neil Olshey deserves credit for acquiring a number of talented young players who complement Lillard’s game. Aminu stands out to me as a great addition since he is a very talented two-way player who will do a solid job defending and rebounding. He did a good job with the Dallas Mavericks last season, and it’s worth noting that he’s still just 24 years old, so he may still have untapped potential. The last time we saw Aminu, he was putting up very impressive numbers in the Mavericks’ first-round series against the Houston Rockets. Even though he came off of the bench in three of the five playoff games, he was one of Dallas’ best players as he averaged 11.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, two steals and 1.6 blocks while shooting 54.8 percent from the field and 63.6 percent from three-point range. His excellent play in the postseason should increase his confidence and it seems like the starting small forward job is his to lose in Portland. This is a great opportunity for Aminu and the a terrific pick-up for the Blazers.

Brandan Wright to the Memphis Grizzlies

After losing Kosta Koufos to the Sacramento Kings, the Grizzlies responded by signing Wright to a three-year deal worth $17.1 million. This is great value for Wright, especially compared to some of the lucrative contracts that big men received this offseason (again, Aron Baynes got a three-year deal worth $19.5 million!). Wright bounced around last season, playing for three different teams (the Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns). This caused his stats to drop a bit, but he was still a quality role player. The 27-year-old is known for shooting a high percentage from the field (hitting 64.2 percent last season and 67.7 percent the year before) and protecting the rim (averaging 1.3 blocks in 19.3 minutes last season and limiting opponents to 49.5 percent at the rim). He’s also very good in the pick-and-roll. Wright is a favorite in the advanced analytics community. Last year, he was ranked seventh among all power forwards with a 20.44 player efficiency rating (a stat that was created by former ESPN analyst John Hollinger, who is now the Grizzlies’ vice president of basketball operations). Wright knows his role and embraces it. He’ll take high-efficiency shots at the rim, hustle on defense and do the dirty work. He should fit right in with Memphis’ “grit-n-grind” style and produce as a reserve.

Sonny Weems to the Phoenix Suns

Weems inked a two-year, $5.8 million deal with the Suns. The 29-year-old was a pretty good role player with the Toronto Raptors several years ago, but he chose to spend the last few seasons playing overseas in Lithuania and Russia. He was actually the first NBA player to sign overseas during the NBA lockout in 2011 and then decided to stay there until now. Last time Weems was in the NBA, he averaged 9.2 points off the bench for the Raptors. Now, he has entered his prime and his game has really expanded thanks to his stint in Russia. He was considered the best wing player overseas and was one of the highest-paid Americans playing abroad. In fact, Phoenix actually signed Weems for less than the $3 million salary he would’ve earned with CSKA Moscow this season had he not opted out. While playing in Russia, Weems really improved as a shooter; he hit 40.1 percent of his three-point attempts last season, which is a huge jump from the 24.1 percent he shot in his first three NBA seasons. All signs point to Weems being a significant contributor on a good contract for the Suns.

Wesley Johnson to the Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers had a very busy offseason, making splashy additions like Lance Stephenson, Paul Pierce and Josh Smith as well as re-signing DeAndre Jordan to everyone’s surprise. Because they made so many moves, the addition of Johnson at the veteran minimum ($1,100,602) seemed to go largely unnoticed, but it’s a very solid pick-up. Johnson has a player option for the second year and he’s a virtual lock to opt out next summer. Still, adding Johnson on what’s essentially a one-year deal further improves the Clippers’ bench, which was their biggest weakness last season. Suddenly, L.A. is looking incredibly deep, which is a scary thought for other teams since their starting five was one of the best in the league last season. Johnson hasn’t lived up to the expectations that came with being the No. 4 pick in 2010, but he has developed into a solid perimeter defender and pretty good three-point shooter. Last season, Johnson averaged 9.9 point and 4.2 rebounds in 29.5 minutes per game with the L.A. Lakers.

Which offseason additions stood out as underrated to you? Leave a comment below.

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

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Georgetown Prospect Omer Yurtseven is Ready for Center Stage

Omer Yurtseven spoke with Drew Maresca about playing for coach Patrick Ewing, training for the NBA during a pandemic and why he feels he’s the best center in the 2020 draft class.

Drew Maresca

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Omer Yurtseven, the 7-foot tall, Georgetown center, posted an impressive junior season in 2019-20; he averaged 15.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. With legitimate NBA size and skills, it’s no mystery why he’s confident. “I don’t think anyone has my combination of tools and versatility,” Yurtseven recently told Basketball insiders. But he’s also a student of the game –well aware of the game’s history and where it’s headed.

“I wouldn’t put anyone ahead of me. I haven’t seen anyone with the tools that I have. I can shoot the ball, the three-ball, and that’s where the big man is headed,” Yurtseven said.

But he’s not satisfied with what he’s accomplished thus far. He wants more. And he understands that he’ll have to continue working to ensure his spot in the league.

“Some guys might be more athletic [than me], but there are a lot of athletic bigs in the league who don’t stick,” Yurtseven continued. “The skillset is just as important, if not more. So is the [willingness to put in] the work. I think I’m better or as good as any other players, and my rookie year, that’s my goal, to prove that.”

Yurtseven transferred to Georgetown from N.C. State in 2018 after a successful Sophomore season in which he shot over 50 percent on three-point attempts. He sat out the 2018-19 season voluntarily to play for Georgetown and coach Patrick Ewing. The opportunity to work with the Hall of Famer was too good to pass up.

“That’s what I was looking for coming in [working with Ewing]. I needed someone to see the game from my perspective,” Yurtseven said. “I was looking for that feedback and I demanded to be coached. I wanted to learn from him. The thing he stayed on me the most about was the pace of the game and how quick my moves would have to be at the next level.

“The turnaround jumper was one of his major weapons,” Yurtseven continued. “He was ahead of his time, but he wanted to see me do the same thing and give 100 percent effort every time.”

Yurtseven jumper is a major weapon in his arsenal, so a pairing with Ewing was an obvious fit. His numbers remained strong during his junior year season with Georgetown, but with one glaring drop off – three-point percentage. Ewing demanded that Yurtseven operate from the low post, a role that the prospect didn’t love, but accepted. Could a new role be to blame for a down shooting year? Yurtseven would never blame anyone other than himself, especially not Ewing. But it’s clear that he felt like he could have done even more if given the opportunity.

“The biggest thing is, I played how I played because that was the role demanded of me. All I had to do was be the inside presence, the defense collapser, and we had to stick to the strategy that coach thought was best for the team.

“I would love to have caught the ball at the top a little more,” Yurtseven continued. “But I was happy to be the post guy. I knew I had to get into my moves quick, so that’s what I did. I sacrificed what I think is my best skills for the team, and I was fine with it.”

It’s evident that Yurtseven is a team-first guy but his three-point shooting took a significant hit. As mentioned above, Yurtseven shot 50 percent on 1.3 three-point attempts as a sophomore in 2017-18, but only 21.4 percent on only half an attempt from long range per game in 2019-20. However, it’s not in his nature to look back – only ahead.

“That’s been my main focus,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “In April, I was shooting 30 or 40 percent two steps behind the college three. That percentage has added up 5 or 10 percent each month. Doing it isn’t easy, but it pays off and that’s why we do it. Now I’m at 75 or 80 percent (in practice sessions) and I’m really confident in my ability.

“And that’s the most important skill set for big men right now,” Yurtseven said. “You’ve got to be a perimeter shooter, as well as a perimeter defender, because big men are evolving away from the rim.”

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Yurtseven – and all of the 2020 class – received longer than normal between the end of the 2019-20 NCAA season and the 2020 NBA Draft. And while mock drafts have slowly whittled down the number of prospects, Yurtseven is working tirelessly to improve his stock in any way possible. impressive game.

“No one knew this offseason would be so long. It’s been 6, 8 months already,” Yurtseven continued. “But the team around me has been a blessing – coordinating workouts and making sure I’m taking steps to improve, from nutrition to training lateral quickness to shooting.

“It’s speed and agility, studying the game and having the knowledge about how to position yourself,” Yurtseven continued. “It’s timing and positioning and footwork. It’s all pieces of the puzzle. But the league is another level than college. That’s why I’ve been preparing, increasing lateral quickness, strengthening my glutes, making sure my quads and hips are firing well and that my lateral push-off is explosive as I want.”

“And seeing it translate on the court in two-on-twos and three-on-threes. Switching on guards and providing I can do it to myself. It’s been really fun and fulfilling.”

Yurtseven could have opted to play professionally in Europe – he had numerous professional offers as an 18-year-old prior to coming to joining N.C. State. But Yurtseven is driven by more than money and fame. He is family-oriented and understands the long game. His parents wanted him to receive a college degree before pursuing basketball – a decision that Yurtseven is happy to have made.

“The education was the main reason [I chose to play in the NCAA]. My family’s dream was that I get a college degree.

“When I was 18, [Turkish teams] offered me a huge contract. I’ve never seen so many zeros in my life,” Yurtseven continued.

“Now it’s time to chase my dream. And my team, my circle, it’s our goal to find a franchise that allows me to grow into a player for 10-plus years – and I’ll never stop working at it.”

Where Yurtseven ultimately plays is anyone’s guess – but he’s already spoken with 17 NBA teams.

Whatever franchise selects the center will add a hard-working and versatile big man that looks well-suited for the modern game – or he may not be selected at all.  Yurtseven is currently ranked outside the top 50 according to some mocks – but if he gets an opportunity, he knows how he’d like to play.

“My aim is to get a double-double, year one,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “And, of course, guarding 1 through 5 is another big thing that coaches are looking for. Look at the Bucks, they were ranked first in offense (in 2019-20). Most of their points come from spot-ups. Defenses collapse on Giannis and Middleton – and Brook Lopez stays alone in the corner. I think that’ll be where I get my shots, too.”

Only three rookies in the past 10 years have averaged a double-double in their first season in the league – Blake Griffin, Karl-Anthony Towns, Deandre Ayton. That’s an elite club in which Yurtseven is seeking membership. Can he surprise the basketball world? Only time will tell.

There isn’t much data on him against elite big men. But there is one relevant contest worth examining: a Nov. 22 matchup against Duke and Vernon Carey, who is projected to be drafted No. 26 overall by Basketball Insiders.

Carey filled the stat sheet with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but so did Yurtseven (21 points, five rebounds and four blocks). That night, his entire repertoire was on full display – decisive drop steps, smooth turnaround jump shots over both shoulders, baby hooks, midrange jumpers and hard-nosed defense.

“He was the only true big man that I played against,” Yurtseven recalled. “He was quick and Duke did a good job putting the ball in his hands as soon as he stepped in the paint. I had to exert a lot of energy keeping him off his spot, but I adjusted quickly.

“I figured he would be very strong, but he ultimately didn’t feel as strong as I expected. My maturity and strength helped me a lot.”

Yurtseven’s skill and build render him tailor-made for the NBA. But for most, sticking at the professional peak is about more than skill and body. IQ, on and off of the floor, play a major role, too.

“A lot of guys [in this draft class] haven’t played many games,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “Having a college degree and that experience is a huge tool.

“Playing overseas as a pro is another layer of experience that I have compared to these guys. My IQ has improved. Those one-and-done guys are gonna be thrown into the fire, but I’ll be more ready.

“I saw a study,” Yurtseven explained. “Guys that come in 21-and-under stay in the league two or three years on average. Guys that come in and are 21-or-older stay seven or eight years on average. That just shows how much time it takes to mature your game.”

Comparatively, only four players were 22 or older as on draft night in 2019 – Yurtsevein is 22.

At the end of the day, it will be about how he performs on the court, and he’s comfortable with that.

“If I get drafted, I’ll be the first guy coming out of Turkey with a college degree,” Yurtseven said proudly.

“I’m ready for the next step. I appreciate everyone wishing me luck and supporting me from afar. I can’t wait to show my game’s evolution and reap the benefits of all of the work I’ve put in.”

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NBA 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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