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Despite Nice Stats, Questions Remain for Whiteside

Jesse Blancarte spoke with Hassan Whiteside about his unique journey, improving game and pending free agency.

Jesse Blancarte

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Despite Impressive Stats, Questions Remain for Whiteside

The ascension of Hassan Whiteside is no longer a new story. He was drafted 33rd overall in the 2010 draft by the Sacramento Kings, but was waived just two years later in 2012. After being released, Whiteside played in the NBA D-League, as well as in China and Lebanon. After bouncing around for a few years, Whiteside signed a two-year deal with the Miami HEAT last season and has been putting up monster numbers ever since.

Whiteside has come a long way since being drafted and falling out of the league. His journey is atypical for a physically gifted seven-footer who can now dominate the game in ways few others can. However, that journey has helped Whiteside grow in several ways as a person and as a player.

“I really know what it took to get here,” Whiteside told Basketball Insiders when asked about the biggest difference between who he was when he was drafted and who he is now. “I said it’s like losing a girlfriend. … I lost the NBA and then I came back and I was like, ‘Man I miss her,’ and you have a better appreciation. Not that you didn’t appreciate her in the first place, but you’ve got a different appreciation for her.”

Whiteside put a lot of work into his game over the last few years and it’s paying off for him these last two seasons. Last night against the Denver Nuggets, Whiteside posted a triple-double – contributing 19 points, 17 rebounds and 11 blocked shots in Miami’s comeback victory. It was Whiteside’s third point-rebound-block triple-double since the start of last season, which is three more than the rest of the NBA combined over the last three seasons.

Whiteside individually has more total blocks (151) this season than the Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards have as a team. He also has 14 games with five or more blocks this season, which outpaces all other centers by far, as shown in the chart below (courtesy of StatMuse).

Hassan Whiteside Blocked Shots Comparison Chart

There’s no question that Whiteside is an elite shot-blocker. But when asked what sets him apart from other centers who share a similar skill-set, Whiteside insisted he is a multifaceted player unlike any other center in the league today.

“I feel like I fit the game offensively and defensively,” Whiteside said. “Even just outside of the blocks, me leading the league in blocks, that’s what a lot of people pay attention to because it’s a number. But I don’t really think any big man does all three. We got really good scoring big men, really good defensive big men and really good rebounding big men. But I feel like I can do all three.”

It’s generally a good thing when a player shows unwavering confidence in his game. However, Whiteside’s insistence that he has a well-rounded game that sets him apart from other notable centers can be called into question (especially when you consider that he has only 12 assists total in 1,105 minutes played this season). A look at some footage of Whiteside’s recent play shows that his offensive game, while effective in certain respects, isn’t exactly dynamic.

In this clip, Whiteside runs the court and gets good position in the post against Denver’s Kenneth Faried. Faried is a strong, physical player, but he’s giving up four inches or more in height to Whiteside. Whiteside gets the ball at point-blank range and with a few power dribbles, should be able to turn and get an easy layup over Faried. Instead, Whiteside rushes, takes a small bump from Faried and ends up missing a hook-shot that should have been an easy layup.

 

While Whiteside doesn’t exactly remind anyone of Hakeem Olajuwon in the post, his footwork and touch around the rim isn’t terrible. In fact, every so often Whiteside shows us a glimpse of an improving post-game. We see that in this play, where Whiteside receives the ball just below the elbow and uses a nice spin move to shed Faried and get an easy floater right at the rim.

 

 

The problem for Whiteside here is that, as previously stated, Faried is giving up a ton of size and isn’t exactly a top-notch defensive player. With more polish and patience, Whiteside would have been able to dominate Faried repeatedly in the post.

Whiteside’s overall ineffectiveness in the post is captured by Synergy data, which has Whiteside scoring 0.63 points per possession in post-up plays. That places him in the 15.6 percentile among all players and behind other big men who are considered to lack post-skills like Nerlens Noel, Marreese Speights, Clint Capela and John Henson.

However, like many mobile centers in the NBA today, Whiteside does most of his damage on offense in the pick-and-roll. As the roll-man, Whiteside is scoring a very efficient 1.24 points per possession, which places him in the 90.3 percentile and ahead of notable big men like Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis, teammate Chris Bosh, Serge Ibaka and Blake Griffin.

Whiteside’s level of effectiveness in the pick-and-roll is both obvious and still somehow surprising. It’s obvious in that his size and athleticism makes it relatively easy for him to rise above defenders for easy alley-oops. However, Whiteside often fails to make solid contact while screening the defender and too often slips the screen altogether. This is frustrating because when Whiteside lays down even a decent screen, he is basically ensured to get open for an alley-oop.

In this play, Whiteside doesn’t put a great screen on Lance Stephenson, but it is good enough to put him a step behind Dwyane Wade. This forces Cole Aldrich to close in on Wade harder than he would have had to if Stephenson didn’t get caught on the screen, which gives Whiteside a free lane to the basket for the slam.

 

 

However, in this play, Whiteside fails to set a screen at all for his point guard. Without the screen, Pablo Prigioni is able to somewhat stick with Tyler Johnson. Had Whiteside held up Prigioni even a little bit, Johnson would have had a clear path to the rim, which would have forced Aldrich to slide over completely. This would have left Whiteside completely open for an alley-oop, but instead Aldrich is able to protect the rim and stay close enough to Whiteside to prevent an easy lob.

 

 

Fortunately for Whiteside and the HEAT, Wade still manages to score on the play. However, the point remains that when Whiteside puts even a decent screen on opponents in the pick-and-roll, he is almost guaranteed a dunk at the rim, but too often Whiteside fails to do so.

Focusing in on these issues comes off as nitpicking considering the numbers Whiteside is putting up. However, it is worth mentioning because as effective as Whiteside can be, his inattentiveness to small details as well as his inability to maintain focus and effort can torpedo his ability to help Miami win games. It also suggests that Whiteside could be even more consistently dominant if he hones in on these things, which is a scary thought for the rest of the league.

When asked what head coach Erik Spoelstra wants him to focus on more than anything else each night, Whiteside doesn’t mention one particular aspect of the game.

“Just [go] out there and dominate,” Whiteside said. “Don’t take a play off and just be the Hassan he knows I can be. He tells me I can do things that no other big man can do and he feels like he wants me to do it more.”

That is the frustrating part about Whiteside’s game. Coach Spoelstra knows, like many others, that Whiteside could probably be the most dominant big man in the game, especially defensively, with more focus and consistency. We drool over Whiteside’s blocks, but those blocks haven’t helped the HEAT significantly on defense, according to a range of defensive measures.

For example, the HEAT are surrendering 96.9 points per 100 possessions when Whiteside is on the bench, and 101.6 points per 100 when he is on the floor. However, it should be noted that when looking at on/off statistics like these, it is important to keep things in context. Sometimes players’ on/off numbers are inflated or negatively affected based on which teammates they play with most often, who their opponents are and whether they play against starters or backups, among other things.

ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus stat tries to account for these variables and, as of this writing, Whiteside ranks ninth in Defensive Real Plus-Minus among all centers (3.54). This is a decent rating, but it places Whiteside behind several of the elite defensive big men such as Tim Duncan, Andrew Bogut and Andre Drummond. Additionally, Whiteside ranks well in Nylon Calculus’ rim protection statistics. Whiteside is sixth in points saved per 36 minutes at the rim (2.4 points per game) and is among the league leaders in opponent field goal percentage at the rim.

Put all together, these statistics are solid. But with Whiteside blocking shots at a historic rate and with the size and mobility to cover a ton of ground, you would expect his presence on the court to be even more of a game-changer for the HEAT. But that simply isn’t the case and a lot of it has to do with, again, Whitside’s lack of focus on small details and inconsistent effort.

We see an example of Whiteside’s lack of focus on this next play. The HEAT are retreating on defense and Whiteside zones in on Emmanuel Mudiay, who is already being guarded by two players. Whiteside fails to survey the court to look for someone to put a body on and once he sees Faried barreling down the lane, he doesn’t even attempt to meet Faried at the rim.

 

 

Whether you want to characterize this particular play as lazy or inattentive, the point is that it’s the sort of play that Whiteside gives up too often each game. These plays happen enough each night that when they’re all added together, they somewhat undo the positive effects of Whiteside’s blocks and overall solid paint and rim protection.

However, for all of the criticism of Whiteside, the fact is that he is a tremendous talent who still has a lot of room to grow and improve. He’s still just 26 years old and he has only started 69 NBA games in his career (since he never started a game in Sacramento and, in fact, barely played). With more experience and development, he could correct these mistakes and even further maximize his potential.

Even though he remains relatively raw, he has shown massive growth since the beginning of last season. The impressive statistics and glimpses of brilliance we’ve seen will be enough to make him one of the most sought after free agents this upcoming offseason. And make no mistake about it, with the rising cap and the financial flexibility many teams will suddenly have, Whiteside will receive a max offer from someone. As previously mentioned, because Whiteside will have only spent two seasons with Miami, they won’t have his Bird Rights. This means they’ll have to use cap space to sign him (rather than being able to go over the cap to retain him) and they won’t be able to prevent him from signing with any other team. The only real advantages the HEAT have are the fact that they can offer him slightly higher annual raises, a strong team culture that he is already familiar with and a track record of success.

These things aren’t lost on Whiteside, who only had positive things to say about playing in Miami.

“It’s a lot of good things,” Whiteside said when asked to list some positives and negatives to playing for the HEAT. “You get to play alongside NBA champions. … It’s a great city, the fans really embrace me. I won’t really say anything too bad.”

Those positive aspects could help the HEAT keep Whiteside in July. When asked what he is looking for most from a team in free agency, Whiteside made it clear he wants to contend and will go to the squad that gives him the best chance to do so.

“I want to go to a team that’s about winning,” Whiteside said. “[A team] that has a good understanding of what it takes to win and a good city with a good fan base.”

While Miami checks off the major items Whiteside listed, it is notable that during our interview he never said anything to the effect that re-signing with Miami specifically was his main priority or that he wasn’t focusing on free agency during the season, which are some of the cliche responses players typically give in these sort of situations. Whether that was intentional or not, it seems pretty clear that Whiteside will listen to other teams who will pitch him on why he should sign with them. And, as we saw last season with the DeAndre Jordan saga, anything can happen in free agency.

There will be a number of teams that have an obvious need for a player like Whiteside and each will have the spending power to pursue him this upcoming offseason. The Atlanta Hawks, who may lose Al Horford in unrestricted free agency, come to mind. The Boston Celtics, who have long-term question marks at center, are another option. The Charlotte Hornets, who may lose Al Jefferson to unrestricted free agency, could be in the mix. The Chicago Bulls, who may let Joakim Noah walk in free agency, may need a new center. The Los Angeles Lakers, who are unlikely to bring back Roy Hibbert and want to make a splashy move, make a lot of sense as a potential suitor. And, of course, the HEAT will try to retain his services.

Whichever team Whiteside ends up with will be taking a chance on his potential and the idea that he can continue to fine-tune the smaller nuances of the game that consistently allude him. To be clear, he is already one of the most gifted big men in the league. But with some more polish and focus, he could be the absolute best. Considering how much he has improved over the last two seasons, that seems like a gamble worth taking for any team that’s looking for a franchise center this upcoming offseason.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and 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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