The New York Knicks looked like a dumpster fire two summers ago and after some savvy moves in the draft and the hiring of David Fizdale as head coach the Knicks not only look like a team on the rise, they might be one of the teams to watch this season as a sneaky play for the post-season.
FIVE GUYS THINK…
For all of the criticism I have given the New York Knicks in the past, I must admit that I like a lot of the moves they made this summer. I think bringing in David Fizdale is going to make a big-time difference on the court and in the locker room for this team. New York also did well in adding on players that have actual upside without compromising its cap flexibility moving forward. New York signed Mario Hezonja to a one-year, $6.5 million contract and signed Noah Vonleh to a non-guaranteed one-year, $1,621,415 contract. I like that New York is taking a chance on young players who haven’t fulfilled expectations but still have the chance to develop and contribute. I also liked the drafting of Kevin Knox, who projects to be a very good player. With all of this in mind, New York has its eye primarily on the recovery of Kristaps Porzingis and next offseason. There are rumors that New York could land some big-time free agents next year, so making a good showing on the court this year will be particularly important.
5th Place – Atlantic Division
– Jesse Blancarte
Am I dreaming, or did the Knicks actually play it smart this summer? They uncharacteristically made wise decisions this summer, such as drafting Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson. Nobody said the Knicks couldn’t draft but adding young prospects like Mario Hezonja and Noah Vonleh for cheap? Those were smart, not typical Knicks moves. Now, pending any surprises, they won’t see much success this year with Kristaps Porzingis out indefinitely. The upshot is that if this summer is a sign of things to come, then the Knicks are taking that first step towards relevance.
5th Place – Atlantic Division
– Matt John
Team culture is what it’ll be all about for David Fizdale and the Knicks this coming season. While Kristaps Porzingis rehabs and hopefully returns from his knee injury, others will need to help fill the void. Rookie players Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson are going to inject some much-needed new life into this franchise. Mario Hezonja was a sneaky good signing by general manager Scott Perry as well. Besides those guys, New York would love to see Tim Hardaway Jr. build and improve on last year’s numbers, especially upping that three-point percentage. This ball club is in for a dogfight being in the Atlantic, though.
5th Place – Atlantic Division
– Spencer Davies
In one sense, it feels like the Knicks might finally be lifting themselves up out of the purgatory that was the Carmelo Anthony/Phil Jackson ending. Kristaps Porzingis represents a foundational star the franchise hasn’t had in years, and there’s plenty of optimism about draftees Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson. Add in a surprising resurgence from Trey Burke, some strong rookie stretches from Frank Ntilikina and a new head coach in David Fizdale, and there are some real reasons for optimism in the Big Apple. At the same time, though, Porzingis’ torn ACL makes one realize just how thin this current roster is after him; someone like Burke or Tim Hardaway Jr. might legitimately be the star of this unicorn-less squad. The Knicks don’t expect Porzingis back until at least December, likely longer, and they’ll be one of the worst teams in the league until that point. One even wonders whether the priority with Porzingis should be complete, 100 percent health rather than rushing back to add a few wins that almost certainly won’t equal a playoff berth.
5th Place – Atlantic Division
– Ben Dowsett
The Knicks look like a team that could surprise the pundits and sneak into in the post-season – if Kristaps Porzingis can make a quicker than expected recovery. Keep in mind ACL tears are not what they used to be and while no one wants to risk anything long-term with KP, there is a window in all of this that suggests if KP is back by the end of December, the Knicks might have enough talent to be a 35-40 win team. That kind of production would put the Knicks squarely in the hunt for the 8th seed in the East, which would be a solid season.
5th Place – Atlantic Division
– Steve Kyler
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Tim Hardaway Jr.
Kristaps Porzingis would obviously get the nod here if he were healthy, but KP tore his left ACL last February and is expected to miss at least the first three months of the 2018-19 campaign. In Porzingis’ absence, much of the scoring load will fall onto the shoulders of Hardaway Jr. The Knicks have a lot invested in THJ, as they doled out a four-year, $71 million contract to Hardaway Jr. in July of 2017. Last season, he averaged 17.5 points per game, but was disappointingly inefficient. He shot just 42.1 percent from the field and 31.7 percent from 3-point territory. If he can bump up those percentages closer to his 2016-17 levels (45.5 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent from downtown), his scoring average could climb close to 20 points per contest. With limited offensive firepower on the roster, the Knicks need him to step up.
Top Defensive Player: Frank Ntilikina
Despite entering the league as a teenager last season, Ntilikina quickly established himself a terrific perimeter defender. The French Prince uses his height (6-foot-5) and length (seven-foot wingspan) to terrorize opponents as they cross halfcourt. His size and athleticism allow Ntilikina to guard multiple positions, from points guards to small forwards. His Defensive Rating (104.9) was best among Knicks regulars in 2017-18. If Frank can take his defense to the next level, he may have a chance to earn some consideration as an All-NBA defender in 2018-19.
Top Playmaker: Trey Burke
Burke is one of the more intriguing players on the Knicks roster heading into the 2018-19 campaign. Despite being selected with the ninth overall pick by the Jazz in the 2013 NBA draft, Burke had fallen off the NBA radar by the end of 2017. With no team offering guaranteed money, he was forced to settle for a G-League contract with New York. Burke rededicated himself and averaged 26.6 points and 5.3 assists per game for the Westchester Knicks. He was finally called up in mid-January and posted impressive numbers right away. He eventually worked his way into the starting lineup by March and started the final nine games of the regular season, averaging an impressive 18.7 points, 7.7 assists, 2.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals and just 1.9 turnovers. Can Burke come close to matching that type of production again next season? We shall see.
Top Clutch Player: Tim Hardaway Jr.
Until Porzingis gets back in the mix, the Knicks will likely have to lean on Hardaway Jr. late in games. Unfortunately for New York, THJ has historically been a bit too reliant on his sometimes unreliable jumper. The Knicks need to encourage him to attack the basket more frequently and get himself to the free-throw stripe, especially in late-game situations.
The Unheralded Player: Courtney Lee
Looking at Lee’s final stat line from last season doesn’t tell the whole story. After the Knicks fell out of contention after the All-Star break, New York significantly reduced his playing time and opted to see what their younger players could bring to the table. However, when receiving consistent minutes over the first half of the season, Lee proved he was still a valuable 3-and-D wing. Over the first 60 games of the season, Lee led New York in total points, made 3-pointers, steals, minutes played and ranked third in rebounds. He is a bit misplaced on a rebuilding squad featuring a pair of teenagers, but talent evaluators around the NBA respect what he can bring to a competitive “win now” team. With two years and $25 million left on his current contract, the Knicks will likely look to move him by the February trade deadline in order to create the most cap space possible for the summer of 2019.
Best New Addition: Kevin Knox
When the Knicks selected Knox with the 9th overall pick in the 2018 draft, most pundits assumed it would take a while before he acclimated himself to the NBA game. At just 18 years of age, he was one of the youngest players in the entire draft and was inefficient offensively as a freshman at Kentucky. However, Knox was spectacular during Las Vegas Summer League action. He was named to the Summer League’s All-NBA First Team after averaging 21.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.5 three-pointers and one steal in 32.2 minutes.
– Tommy Beer
WHO WE LIKE
1. Kristaps Porzingis
It’s tough not to like Porzingis. At the start of last season, he showed that he has the potential to be one of the more dominant two-way players in the entire sport. Over New York’s first 12 games in 2017-18, he averaged 30.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.1 three-pointers and 2.3 blocks. In the process, he became the first Knickerbocker in franchise history to score at least 300 points over the first ten games of a season. If he can return healthy, his upside is enormous.
2. David Fizdale
Fizdale was one of the hot free-agent coaching commodities on the market this summer. He interviewed for numerous teams and was offered the Suns head coaching gig, but said it was a dream of his to coach in New York. He won’t have much pressure on him next season in terms of wins and losses, but he will be tasked with developing the Knicks young core. With Knox, Ntilikina and Mitchell Robinson all 20 years of age or younger, it’s imperative that New York’s coaching staff puts these youngsters on the path to maximizing their full potential.
3. Mario Hezonja
Scott Perry, the Orlando Magic vice president and assistant general manager in 2015, and the Magic were reportedly hoping to land Porzingis with the 5th pick in the draft. However, Phil Jackson and the Knicks snagged KP at No. 4 and Orlando selected Hezonja. Super Mario did not live up to expectations over his first two years in Florida. As a result, the Magic decided to decline hia fourth-year option on his rookie contract last October. However, due to a rash of injuries to Magic forwards, Mario was given extended opportunities to play and he made the most of it. He started 30 games last season and averaged 14.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.8 three-pointers and 1.5 steals, while shooting 46. percent from the floor. With Porzingis sidelined, there will plenty of minutes and shot attempts up for grabs, especially at power forward. Hezonja has a chance to step in and step up.
4. Mitchell Robinson
Like Knox, not much was expected of Robinson this season. After a stellar high school career, Robinson mysteriously sat out his freshman season on the collegiate level, choosing instead to prepare for the draft by working with an individual trainer. As a result, he slipped into the second round, where the Knicks scooped him up. Like Knox, he greatly exceeded expectations in Las Vegas. Robinson averaged 13.0 points, 10.2 rebounds, one steal and (a record-breaking) four blocks per game, while shooting a scorching 66.7 percent from the field.
– Tommy Beer
When a team finishes a season ranked 24th in offensive efficiency (scoring 104.1 points per 100 possessions) and 23rd in defensive efficiency (allowing 108.4 points per 100 possessions) as the Knicks did in 2017-18, it’s difficult to pinpoint many strengths. However, for the first time in a long time, New Yorkers have reason to be optimistic about the future. It looks like the Knicks may have nailed both their 2018 draft picks. Their 2017 lottery selection, Frank Ntilikina, is only 19 has flashed elite defensive potential. And New York will likely have enough cap space next summer to make a max offer to the top free agents on the market. While the short-term outlook is somewhat bleak, the Knicks should be a fun team to watch next season and could be markedly better by 2020.
– Tommy Beer
Ever since Phil Jackson was hired as president back in 2014 and “encouraged” the head coaches he hired to run the Triangle Offense, the Knicks have been far too reliant on mid-range jumpers. Last season, even though Jackson had already been fired, former head coach Jeff Hornacek failed to fix this flaw. In 2017-18, 62.1 percent of the total points the Knicks scored came off 2-point field goals, which was the highest such percentage among all NBA teams. In addition, 73.4 percent of all New York’s field-goal attempts were 2-pointers. In today’s NBA, the 3-point shot is more important and valuable than ever, yet the Knicks have been behind the times. One of the reasons David Fizdale was hired was that he has shown an ability to get his teams to take and make shots from downtown.
– Tommy Beer
THE BURNING QUESTION
When will Kristaps Porzingis return to the Knicks lineup?
As noted above, KP is working his way back from a torn ACL in his left knee. The typical recovery time for NBA players is usually 10-12 months. There have been some rumors from Porzingis’ camp that he is targeting a return around Christmas. However, that may be overly optimistic. It’s probably safe to assume that New York won’t be competitive this season. They had the second-worst record in the NBA over the last 50 games of the 2017-18 season. Vegas sports books have set their 2018-19 win total over/under at 29. They also have a very unfavorable schedule early on. With Porzingis sidelined for at least the first two months, they will likely be well under .500 by the time he is close to being cleared. At that point, why would there be a need to rush him back into action? It would be prudent to wait until he is as close to 100 percent as possible. In addition to extra patience likely being best for Porzingis, it could benefit the Knicks as well by increasing their odds of landing a high lottery pick next summer. Having KP return after the All-Star break makes sense for all concerned. This way Porzingis still gets two months to show he is healthy, which is important for his confidence heading into the offseason, and also serves as proof to potential free agents that KP is ready to reclaim his spot as an elite NBA player.
– Tommy Beer
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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