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NBA Sunday: Current And Future NBA Players Shine At EuroBasket

Buddy Grizzard evaluates several current and future NBA players performing at EuroBasket 2017.

Buddy Grizzard

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EuroBasket 2017 is packed with past, present and future NBA talent, and that talent has been on full display as the tournament enters the knockout stage. Here we’ll check in on some of the top performers currently on NBA rosters, as well as a couple of the top players outside the NBA.

Goran Dragic

Dragic is fifth in scoring (21.2) and third in total points (127) at EuroBasket. However, he has shot just 46 percent overall (28th) and 31.8 percent from three (76th). His all-around contributions included 3.6 rebounds per game, ranking 17th among guards. His five assists per game are good for 14th and 1.8 steals tied for ninth. Dragic is the seventh most efficient player in the tournament according to FIBA’s overall efficiency stat.

Slovenia was fortunate to survive an off game from Dragic in the quarterfinals against Ukraine as he shot just 2-for-12 for five points with four rebounds and four assists in 21 minutes. Despite the struggles, Slovenia advances to the round of eight and Dragic will have a chance to close the tournament on a more positive note. Slovenia will face Kristaps Porzingis and Latvia in the round of eight on Tuesday.

Dennis Schroder

Dennis Schroder is EuroBasket 2017’s leader in points per game (23.2) and total points (139), but he hasn’t been supremely efficient. His 46.9 percent field goal shooting ranks well down the list at 25th, while his wayward three-pointer has connected only 33.3 percent of the time, ranking 68th. His 5.2 assists per game and 1.8 steals both tied for ninth, and he rated 13th per FIBA’s efficiency stat.

While Schroder has shown some of the same defensive lapses throughout the tournament that marred his 2016-17 NBA season, he clearly wanted it in yesterday’s round of 16 elimination game against France. Schroder dove on the floor for loose balls and consistently beat the French to 50-50 balls. Nobody could stay in front of him — not Evan Fournier and certainly not the unfortunate Boris Diaw, who got stuck defending him on several switches.

Schroder was able to find seams, pull multiple defenders into the paint and either finish through them or find teammates for dump-off passes. During one memorable sequence in the comeback win for Germany, Schroder got a steal and saved it to Robin Benzing. Schroder received a return pass and drew Diaw to the basket before setting up Daniel Theis to posterize him.

Kristaps Porzingis

Porzingis is second in total points for the tournament (131) and third in points per game (21.8). He continues to show the range that makes his ceiling so high, hitting 44 percent on threes, which ranks 28th. However, you would have liked to see something greater than 5.7 rebounds per game. Porzingis does lead the tournament with two blocks per game, showing the rare combination of outside shooting and rim protection that makes him such a special player. FIBA rates Porzingis as the fourth most efficient player in the tournament.

Porzingis dropped 19 points, including two of three three-pointers and six rebounds to lead Latvia past Montenegro earlier today in the round of 16. That sets up Tuesday’s round of eight contest with Dragic and Slovenia.

Bojan Bogdanovic

Bojan Bogdanovic is seventh in field goal percentage (56.4) and three-point percentage (55.6) and is one of the tournament’s most efficient scorers. The Pacers’ free agent signing is fourth with 21.4 points per game and tied with Marco Belinelli for sixth with 107 total points. He’s also fifth among guards in rebounding at five per game. FIBA ranks Bogdanovice eighth in efficiency. However, at only one assist per game, Bojan ties for 152nd. Bogdanovic and Croatia tip off against Russia today in the round of 16.

Lauri Markkanen

There have been hugely encouraging signs for Bulls fans with supremely efficient scoring from rookie Lauri Markkanen. His 19.5 points per game are seventh in the tournament while he ranks 11th in field goal percentage. His 117 total points at EuroBasket ranked a hugely-impressive fourth following Finland’s elimination at the hands of Italy in the round of 16. At 53.3 percent field goal shooting, Markkanen is one of only four NBA players in the tournament’s top 12. He also shot 47.8 percent from three, ranking 17th. His 5.7 rebounds per game tied him for a respectable 22nd and he rated 14th in efficiency according to FIBA. Markkanen didn’t do anything at EuroBasket to quiet those who doubt his ability to defend at an NBA level, but his impressive showing is a great sign for Chicago.

Alexey Shved

One player we’ll mention that is not NBA-bound is Russian Alexey Shved, who departed CSKA Moscow for the Timberwolves in 2012, but was traded three times in three NBA seasons. Shved signed a three-year deal with Khimki Moscow in 2015 and is second in points per game for EuroBasket (23) and fifth in total points (115). He’s the only player among the tournament’s top eight scorers that is not currently under contract with an NBA team. However, his 43.4 percent field goal shooting hasn’t blown anyone away. On the plus side, he has hit 40.4 percent of his threes and ranked seventh with 5.6 assists per game. He also tied for eighth in efficiency. Shved faces Bojan Bogdanovic and Croatia today in the round of 16.

Marco Belinelli

The new Atlanta Hawk is ninth in scoring (17.8) and tied for sixth in total points (107). His 51.1 percent three-point shooting ranks 10th at EuroBasket and he joins Bojan Bogdanovic as the only other NBA player in the top 10. Unfortunately, his 43 percent overall field goal shooting ranks all the way down at 39th. His 2.8 rebounds per game were also decent for a guard, and his 2.2 steals per game ranked fourth. Belinelli led the way with 22 points, four rebounds, and two assists to move Italy past Markkanen and Finland in the round of 16. Italy will face Bogdan Bogdanovic and Serbia Wednesday in the round of eight.

Pau Gasol

Spain’s mainstay is 15th in scoring (16.8) and ninth in field goal percentage (53.7) for the tournament. He’s also hit threes at a 44.4 percent clip, good for 26th, while his 8.8 rebounds per game rank fourth. Gasol also ranked third in FIBA’s overall efficiency stat. Spain, the prohibitive favorites to win EuroBasket, tip off later today against Turkey in the round of 16.

Evan Fournier

Fournier is 17th in scoring (15.8) and tenth in total points (95) on 47.7 percent field goal shooting, which ranks 23rd. Fournier hit 37 percent of his threes, which was good for an unimpressive 52nd. He did contribute 1.5 steals per game, which tied for 16th. Fournier erupted for 27 points, including three of eight three-pointers against Germany, but it wasn’t enough to stop Schroder’s national team from coming back to advance to face the Spain-Turkey winner.

Mindaugas Kuzminskas

At 19th in scoring (15.3) and tied for 13th in total points (92), Kuzminskas also connected on 36.4 percent of his threes. The New York Knick led Lithuania in the round of 16 with 20 points, but it wasn’t enough as Greece eliminated them to advance to advance to face the Russia-Croatia winner.

Dario Saric

Croatia’s Dario Saric is 21st in scoring (15.2) and his field goal shooting (43.9 percent, 36th in the tournament) and three point shooting (31.3 percent, 78th) have not impressed. He ranked in the top 10 in rebounding, however (7.4, tied for ninth). His 1.2 blocks per game tie him for fifth, and he was tied for second in double-doubles with three. His all-around performance was good enough for 19th in efficiency per FIBA’s metric. Russia awaits later today in the round of 16.

Bogdan Bogdanovic

Bogdan has shot just 44.7 percent from the field, ranking a tepid 32nd. The recipient of the largest rookie contract in NBA history — thanks to countryman and Kings GM Vlade Divac — shot just 29.3 percent on three pointers, ranking 87th. His 3.6 rebounds per game ranked 16th among players listed as guards. The saving grace for his tournament is that his 5.2 assists per game tied for ninth and his 1.6 steals rated 13th. Somehow, despite his shooting struggles, FIBA ranks him in the top 10 in efficiency. Bogdanovic led the way with 17 points and six assists as Serbia dominated Hungary in the round of 16. Serbia advances to face Italy on Wednesday.

Cedi Osman

The Cavaliers’ new utility wing is 17th in total points with 88 and an impressive 11th in points per game (17.6). However, he’s shot just 40 percent, which ties him for 45th. He did show some range with 36.7 percent three-point shooting and contributed a respectable 5.2 rebounds, which ranked 30th. Also showing his all-around game, Osman ranked 28th with 1.8 assists per game and tied for fifth with two steals. FIBA ranked Osman 12th in efficiency. He’ll have his work cut out for him today as Turkey received an unfavorable draw and must face Spain to open the round of 16.

Luka Doncic

The projected high lottery pick in next summer’s draft has shot just 41.8 percent for the tournament, ranking 41st. Perhaps most impressively, Doncic has pulled down 7.5 rebounds per game, which ranks eighth among all players but first among players listed as guards by FIBA. He also rated 17th in efficiency. Overshadowed for much of the tournament by Dragic, Doncic showed up when Slovenia needed him. He had 14 points, nine rebounds and six assists as Dragic struggled from the field, helping Slovenia reach the round of eight.

Doncic is a multi-talented player who will be tracked by NBA draft prognosticators through next summer. With Slovenia still alive, along with most of the players on this list, EuroBasket 2017 continues to provide an early fix for NBA junkies yearning for training camp to start in a few short weeks. Dragic has been perhaps the tournament’s most outstanding player, but Schroder is nipping at his heels. If Spain gets past Turkey today, it will set Schroder up for his biggest test against a Spain roster packed with NBA talent.

Buddy Grizzard has written for ESPN.com and BBallBreakdown and served as an editor for ESPN TrueHoop Network.

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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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