Last summer, Ed Davis signed a three-year deal worth $20 million with the Portland Trail Blazers.
In August, shortly after putting pen to paper, the big man told Basketball Insiders that he wanted to finish his career in Portland. The Blazers would be his fourth different team in his six NBA seasons, so he was ready to settle down and stick with one organization for the long haul. Even though he had yet to play a game for the Blazers, his first impression of the franchise was very positive and he was sold on the team.
“That’s definitely my goal,” Davis told me in August about retiring a Blazer. “Portland is one of those organizations where they like to keep a team together – they like to build that way. I definitely feel like this is an organization I can grow with and hopefully this is my last stop in my career. I’d love to win some championships in Portland, and then I go out here.”
Now, halfway through his stint with the Blazers, he remains pleased with his situation. It has been everything he hoped for and he isn’t regretting his decision one bit.
“It’s been an easy transition for me, especially after bouncing around a little bit in the past,” Davis told Basketball Insiders recently. “There are a lot of other guys here who are also in their first year on this team, so that makes it easier too because we’re all in the same position. It’s a great organization and Coach [Terry] Stotts is probably the coolest coach who I’ve played for in my whole life. [The transition] has just been so easy.”
His teammates have welcomed him with open arms and love what he brings to the squad on and off the court.
“Ed is a crucial part of our team,” C.J. McCollum said via text message. “He holds down the paint, finishes well around the rim and has a great presence in the locker room. He doesn’t complain ever and comes to work with his hard hat on each and every day.”
When asked how his time with the Blazers compares to last year’s stint with the Los Angeles Lakers, Davis was complimentary of head coach Byron Scott and general manager Mitch Kupchak. However, he did state that Portland has a clear-cut rebuilding plan that everyone is aware of and knows where they stand. That wasn’t necessarily the case in Los Angeles, according to Davis.
“Here, we’re trying to build something,” Davis said of Portland. “I enjoyed my time with the Lakers. Coach Scott, Mitch and all those guys were good to me, so I don’t really have any complaints. But it’s just different [in Portland]. Obviously in L.A. they want those big stars and they’re not really trying to keep a core together. Now they’re starting to do it because they aren’t getting those top free agents in. Here, there’s just stability. You know that guys are going to be around for a while. You don’t have the feeling that you could get traded any minute or that they’re going to bring a superstar in [to replace you]. You can just focus on doing your job. You know [the plan] and that everything is going to be fine.”
Everything has been fine for Davis on the court, since he has been a solid fit in the Blazers’ frontcourt. He’s averaging 6.6 points and 7.4 rebounds in 21.1 minutes off the bench while shooting an insanely impressive 62.2 percent from the field (which ranks second in the NBA). When the ball is in his hands, good things happen. This is even more evident when you look at his per-100-possessions averages of 15.8 points, 17.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks.
Advanced analytics show his enormous impact as well. He’s surprisingly ranked first among all NBA players in offensive rating (126.1) and he’s ranked third in the NBA in offensive rebounding percentage (15 percent). He has also been extremely efficient, as his 18.4 PER is second on the Blazers behind only All-Star point guard Damian Lillard.
Davis’ stint in Portland is somewhat different from his previous NBA stops. Despite being only 26 years old, he’s the third-oldest player on the roster behind only Chris Kaman (33) and Gerald Henderson (28), making him an elder statesmen to some extent. Twelve players on the team are 25 years old or younger since general manager Neil Olshey wants to surround Lillard with players in his age range. The Blazers are the third-youngest team in the NBA (behind only the Utah Jazz and Milwaukee Bucks) with an average age of 24.6 years old. The hope for Portland is that the young players will all hit their prime around the same time, allowing the group to make the transition from solid up-and-coming team to legitimate contender in several years.
One benefit of having so many young players on the same team is that they can all relate to each other and are in the same stage of their lives. Because many of the players haven’t settled down yet and started a family, they are all enjoying the NBA lifestyle together and bonding off the court. It’s not uncommon for most of the roster to hang out together – watching movies, going out to eat, playing video games, etc. This is similar to the young Oklahoma City Thunder just before they became a perennial contender, as that team was almost always spending time together and there were even rumors that the players invested in a bus so that they could all travel to off-court events together.
Talking to the players in Portland, it’s clear this is a very tight-knit group and that there’s more bonding taking place this year than in past seasons when there was a mix of young guys and veterans (who oftentimes have a family and different priorities than their younger peers). Davis loves the fact that everyone is around the same age and that the team is so close.
“It’s definitely enjoyable. That’s one thing I love about the NBA: all of the relationships you build,” Davis said. “There are some veterans like Chris Kaman, for example, who can tell us stories and talk about things that he has been through. But we do have a lot of young guys and all of us are hungry. We all still have stuff to prove and we’re all in that 23-to-27 age range. Hopefully we can keep this thing together for a long time.”
Interestingly, Portland is already a bit ahead of schedule in their rebuild. Even though they are so young, have nine new players on the roster and lost five key veterans over the summer (LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo), they are currently 17-24. That means they are only one and a half games outside of the playoff picture in the Western Conference.
Davis admits that making the playoffs wasn’t a stated goal entering this season, but that has certainly changed with how well the team has played thus far. It’s also evident that this group loves the fact that they’re silencing their preseason critics.
“Coming into the year, they had us and Philly projected as the two worst teams in the NBA and we’re proving those reporters or whoever had us ranked like that wrong,” Davis said. “We still have a lot of work to do, but I feel like we’ve had six or seven other games where we should’ve won too. And I’m not just saying that because we had a chance to win down the stretch, I’m saying there were times where we gave games away. With those wins, we could be even higher in the standings. But that happens with young, inexperienced teams. We just need to continue to play, learn from mistakes and see what happens.”
Another big difference between this season and Davis’ previous NBA campaigns is his salary. The Lakers somehow managed to sign him to a veteran’s minimum deal prior to last season, which was one of the best contracts in the NBA from a team perspective. They were paying Davis just $981,084 for last season and he easily outperformed his deal.
Now that he’s on a more lucrative three-year deal with Portland, he’s actually the second-highest paid player on the squad due to his $6,980,802 salary. Only Al-Farouq Aminu makes more this season ($8,042,895). Next year, Lillard will be the team’s highest-paid player by far because his mega extension will kick in, causing his salary to increase from $4,236,287 to $20,947,250.
While Davis is often mentioned as one of the more underrated players in the NBA, he swears he doesn’t care one bit. He says he isn’t motivated by how others perceive him or how much attention he gets. His quiet, shy demeanor suggests he’s telling the truth.
“I’ve never really cared about getting credit or being famous or anything, I just wanted to do my job,” Davis said. “I do like to prove others wrong, but I don’t care about the fame or Twitter followers or whatever it may be. I just play hard and try to help my team win. If I get noticed for it, great. If not, I’m not losing any sleep over it. I get paid well, I love my job and I love the situation I’m in, so I can’t complain about anything.”
He’s perfectly fine being a role player who does whatever is asked of him – also known as a coach’s best friend. Davis knows that the Blazers are Lillard’s team and he believes the 25-year-old point guard has earned that. Davis loves the way Lillard leads and feels Portland is in good hands with their star point guard carrying the squad.
“He leads by example,” Davis said of Lillard. “When he does talk then everybody listens, but he’s not a big ‘rah-rah’ kind of guy who is going to say this or that. But you know that he’s going to work really hard every single day and he’s going to come to play every single night. He’s even played through injuries and things like that. He’s extremely dedicated. That’s all you can ask for out of your leader. You don’t want your leader to be this big talker, but then you know he’s BSing you. He leads by example and he’s obviously a great player.”
Before teaming up with Lillard, Davis played alongside another lead-by-example star: Lakers legend Kobe Bryant. He’s thankful that he was able to play alongside Bryant before his retirement, and he says Bryant’s professionalism, intensity and work ethic definitely helped him grow as a player.
“He’s going to be a Hall of Famer and I’m glad that I was fortunate enough to be able to say that I played with him,” Davis said of Bryant. “I had a chance to work out with him in the summer and he really changed my perspective on what it means to work hard. I always tell stories about him. I remember one time when Julius [Randle] and I were working out with him, we had probably already worked out for two and a half hours and we might have put up 30 or 40 shots. It was basically just all conditioning. He was beating us in sprints and things like that. It was definitely a wake-up call for me. It was amazing to see a guy who is in his mid-30s and who has that many miles on his body work like that. It was just crazy.”
Now, Davis hopes to use those lessons from Bryant along with past experiences from his other NBA stops to help Portland return to the postseason this season – when just about everyone wrote the team off. Davis is used to thriving in the underdog role, so he wouldn’t want it any other way.
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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