Last season, the Orlando Magic entered the 2015-16 campaign with increased expectations. For the first time in recent memory, making the playoffs didn’t seem out of the question. The Magic had a new head coach in Scott Skiles, and the organization expected to take the next step in their development.
While posting 35 wins was an improvement from recent years, Orlando fell apart during the new year. The team was in fourth place in the Eastern Conference heading into 2016, but a 2-12 record in January quickly dropped the Magic down the standings and, eventually, they fell out of the playoff race.
After an active offseason that featured plenty of player movement and another coaching search due to Skiles’ resignation, the Magic are hoping to end their four-year playoff drought and return to the postseason under new head coach Frank Vogel.
Basketball Insiders previews the Orlando Magic’s 2016-17 season.
FIVE GUYS THINK
Giving up Victor Oladipo and a lottery pick for Serge Ibaka is forgivable, but turning around and spending $72 million on Bismack Biyombo immediately after that trade is considerably less so. With those moves, the Magic now have one of the deeper (and more confusing) frontcourt rotations in the league, which is great for their ability to defend the paint with some elite shot-blockers, but it hasn’t left the team with anybody capable of actually creating some meaningful offense. Elfrid Payton is the team’s projected starting point guard, but he can’t shoot. Evan Fournier and Jodie Meeks both can pour it in, but neither is known for dominant one-on-one offense. There are going to be many low-scoring games in Central Florida this season, which means it could be another long one for Magic fans.
4th Place – Southeast Division
– Joel Brigham
The Magic spent years after Dwight Howard’s exit sticking to a patient approach to rebuilding their roster. The team was seemingly content building through the draft, letting the youngsters develop and avoiding big free agency expenditures, but the team abruptly changed course this summer. Orlando opened up the piggybank and was active during free agency to bring in veterans Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Green and D.J. Augustin while also trading for defensive-minded forward Serge Ibaka. There’s no question the team has gotten better defensively, which has sort of become new head coach Frank Vogel’s calling card. Offensively, the Magic lack a true go-to scorer when things get tight late in games and this will be the primary source of the team’s struggles to get over the hump.
5th Place – Southeast Division
– Lang Greene
Based on what Frank Vogel was able to get out of the Indiana Pacers over the course of his time there, I think that the young core in Orlando has a capable leader. I like a lot of the pieces on the team and think that Vogel is a capable taskmaster, but it’s the front office that I question. Let’s not forget that the Magic very recently traded the promising Tobias Harris for Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova. Jennings has since departed for New York, while the Magic packaged Ilyasova with Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis in the Serge Ibaka trade. On paper, you could argue that could be a good trade, but then you can’t help but to question why the Magic signed Bismack Biyombo to a huge deal right after that. Adding those two to Nikola Vucevic and Jeff Green (who was also signed this summer) just leaves me very confused as to just what these guys are doing. I love a lot of the young players in Orlando, but I get the sense that this season is going to be more about figuring who is there to stay and how Vogel will coach these guys than it will be about getting the Magic to the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
4th Place – Southeast Division
– Moke Hamilton
The Magic had an interesting offseason to say the least. Former head coach Scott Skiles unexpectedly resigned and was replaced shortly thereafter by former Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel. The Magic later traded Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the rights to Domantas Sabonis to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Serge Ibaka, signed Jeff Green to a one-year, $15 million contract and Bismack Biyombo to a four-year, $72 million contract. They also re-signed Evan Fournier to a five-year, $85 million deal. Giving up Oladipo and Sabonis is a steep price tag for Ibaka, who has declined in recent seasons and could leave after the upcoming year as an unrestricted free agent. The signing of Green is surprising as well considering his skill overlaps talent already on the roster. Additionally, while I like the defensive impact Biyombo can add to the Magic, his contract is pretty hefty (even with the inflated salary cap) considering his limited track record. The Magic seemed to be continuing down the path of auctioning off the young talent they’ve compiled to bring in veterans that can help them compete for a playoff berth now. While I think they have sold low on that talent (see the Tobias Harris trade), I do like the hiring of Vogel. If Vogel can turn this team into a strong defensive unit (something Ibaka and Biyombo should help with), that may help this team turn things around sooner than expected. I like the young talent Orlando assembled in recent years, I just don’t love the deals they’ve made recently to bring in veterans that don’t move the needle enough to compete for anything other than a low-seed playoff berth.
4th Place – Southeast Division
– Jesse Blancarte
While I’m curious to see how Serge Ibaka fits with this Magic squad, I’m also excited to watch Aaron Gordon’s continued development. I interviewed Gordon last week and he made it clear that he expects to play a much bigger role under new head coach Frank Vogel. He has been working really hard this offseason and seems poised for a breakout third season. With the Vogel hire, talented veteran additions and more experience for their young core, the Magic should take a significant step forward this year. With that said, if the Magic lose Ibaka to free agency after this season, the front office will be criticized (and deservedly so) for dealing away Victor Oladipo and lottery selection Domantas Sabonis for a one-year rental who, at best, makes them a fringe playoff team.
4th Place – Southeast Division
– Alex Kennedy
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Evan Fournier
After parting ways with Victor Oladipo, Fournier steps in as the team’s best offensive weapon given everything that he can do. Although it was center Nikola Vucevic who led the team in scoring last season, expect Fournier to take over as the team’s top offensive player. Last year was the most productive of Fournier’s four-year NBA career, as he averaged a career-high 15.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.2 steals per game. Fournier led the Magic in scoring 19 times and 24 outings with 20 or more points (including two 30-point efforts). He can finish at the rim and create his own shot. Like Manu Ginobili, his Eurostep remains one of his most effective moves. He averaged 5.7 drives per game last season, which ranked inside the top 50 in the league. He also figures to be one of the team’s best shooters next season; last year, he knocked down 40 percent of his three-point shot attempts, which was tied for 21st among qualified players.
Top Defensive Player: Serge Ibaka
There is no question who Orlando’s best defender will be this season. The team desperately wanted to add a defensive-minded big man next to Vucevic in the starting lineup and that’s what they’re getting in Ibaka. The reaction to the trade that brought Ibaka to the Magic was a bit mixed, as some believe Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the rights to No. 11 overall pick Donatas Sabonis was too much to give up for Ibaka since he’ll be an unrestricted free agent next summer. However, it’s clear that the Magic love Ibaka’s game and feel he can take them to the next level. He has been selected to three All-Defensive First Teams and has led the league in total blocks four times. Ibaka is a great rim protector, which is exactly what the Magic have needed since Dwight Howard left town. Ibaka held opponents to 43.6 percent shooting at the rim last year, which ranked among the best in the league. His 1.9 blocks per game ranked seventh in the NBA and he was third in total blocks with 148. The Magic haven’t had a player average more than 1.5 blocks per game since Howard in 2011, so Ibaka gives them a much-needed interior defender.
Top Playmaker: Elfrid Payton
As the team’s point guard, Payton is our pick for top playmaker. He is the player who touches the ball most frequently on the team and is in charge of running the offense. Last season, Payton averaged 10.7 points, 6.4 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game. Payton averaged 74.1 touches per game last year. He’s shown that he’s comfortable passing to set up his teammates or keeping the ball to get to the rim, as he averaged 7.8 drives per game last season. What makes Payton such a weapon when he drives are the different head fakes, ball fakes and hesitation dribbles that he uses to keep defenders guessing. He’s a guy who can be a triple-double threat – he’s recorded three during his two years in the league and has come close a number of other times. Payton has shown a lot of promise so far during his career and many believe that he can be a dangerous point guard once he develops a consistent jump shot. He made big strides from his rookie to sophomore season in that department and it seems as though the 22-year-old is poised to be even better next season.
Top Clutch Player: Nikola Vucevic
Although a case can be made for Fournier here, we’re going to highlight Vucevic’s clutch play. It may seem odd to name a center as a team’s best clutch player, but that’s exactly what the Magic have with Vucevic. He hit two game-winning shots for the Magic last season – one against the Los Angeles Lakers on Nov. 11 and one against the Atlanta Hawks on Feb. 7. Vucevic just edged out Fournier in total points scored in the final five minutes of close games (with neither team ahead by more than five points). Vucevic recorded 78 points in those situations, compared to 76 points for Fournier. One of the most impressive aspects of Vucevic’s game is his mid-range shooting. Last season, he averaged 2.2 made shots per game between 15-19 feet from the rim, which ranked second in the league; he shot 50.3 percent from that distance. Vucevic has proven to be one of best offensive centers in the league and he figures to be a guy the team can continue to count on down the stretch.
The Unheralded Player: Mario Hezonja
Hezonja played sparingly during his rookie campaign, but he left a lasting impression on fans when he did see the court. Many people in Orlando are excited about his potential, especially on the offensive end. He appeared in 79 games last year and averaged 6.1 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists in just under 18 minutes per game. He elevated his production to 11.1 points per game in nine starts. What is encouraging for Hezonja fans is the fact that Coach Vogel loves his game. During his introductory press conference in May, Vogel said he is excited to help Hezonja develop. He loves Hezonja’s confidence and his ability to shoot the ball, while also saying that Mario’s skillset and style of play fits with how he wants to run the team. While it doesn’t seem as though Hezonja will find himself in the starting lineup very often, it does seem like he’ll be playing more than the 18 minutes he averaged last season.
Top New Addition: Serge Ibaka
Ibaka experienced great success during his time with the Thunder, so he could emerge as a leader for the Magic and help build a winning culture in Orlando. In addition to everything he brings on the defensive end, he also provides a scoring punch and stretches the floor. Ibaka averaged 12.6 points on 48 percent shooting from the floor and 33 percent from three-point range last season. His numbers were down a bit compared to previous seasons, but that’s likely because the Thunder experimented with getting big men like Enes Kanter and Steven Adams more involved. In Orlando, Ibaka is in a great position and he’ll be one of the team’s top scoring options. Coach Vogel has indicated that Ibaka will be relied on more than he was in OKC. Ibaka is in a contract year and will surely be looking to put up big numbers so that he can cash in when he hits unrestricted free agency next offseason.
– Cody Taylor
WHO WE LIKE
1. Aaron Gordon
After becoming a household name following his incredible performance in February’s Slam Dunk Contest, what’s not to like about Gordon? The most remarkable thing about Gordon is that he’ll be turning 21 years old later this week, meaning he still has plenty of room to grow as a player. In his second season, he averaged 9.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. His per-48 stats offer a look at what he could produce given an increased role: 18.5 points, 13.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks. It can be quite exciting to watch Gordon play since his athleticism allows him to make impact plays all over the floor. He has a great understanding of the game and has one of the best work ethics in the league. Oh, and his confidence is through the roof. He’s much more comfortable entering this campaign and many are expecting him to have a breakout season.
2. Frank Vogel
Was Scott Skiles’ unexpected resignation in May actually a blessing in disguise for the Magic? Vogel was among the top candidates remaining at the time and the team moved quickly to hire him as their next head coach. Given his success with the Indiana Pacers, the hiring of Vogel looks to be a great move. Vogel consistently put the Pacers in great position to be successful and his teams were always known to be very good defensively. Vogel has already set the bar high for next season, stating that the team will make the playoffs.
3. D.J. Augustin
One of the biggest areas of concern for the Magic last year was the backup point guard position. The team tried to address that issue prior to last season by signing C.J. Watson, but he played in just 33 games after battling a calf injury for much of the year. The team then traded for Brandon Jennings, who left to join the New York Knicks this summer. Now, the Magic have brought in Augustin to bolster their backcourt depth. He will give the second unit some much needed shooting; he’s a career 37-percent shooter from three. Augustin also brings a ton of experience to the team and has played on plenty of contenders. It remains to be seen if it will be Watson or Augustin who will ultimately backup Elfrid Payton, but the Magic have legitimate options at the position for the first time in a long time.
4. Bismack Biyombo
Whether or not you agree with Orlando’s decision to give Biyombo a four-year deal worth $72 million, it’s evident that Biyombo can make a big impact for the Magic. He helped his league-wide perception last year with Toronto Raptors – particularly during the playoffs – by making hustle plays and defending the paint. He pulled down a franchise record 26 rebounds against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, which was impressive. It appears Biyombo will be counted on to anchor the Magic’s second unit and that could be a role he flourishes in. It’s clear that the front office is in love with Biyombo judging by the contract they gave him. Coach Vogel’s teams have always been great defensively and Biyombo looks like he’ll fit right in with what the team wants to do.
– Cody Taylor
SALARY CAP 101
The Magic have had a busy offseason, acquiring Serge Ibaka via trade and then going under the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap to sign players like Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Green and D.J. Augustin. The team also re-signed Evan Fournier, locking in at least $104.8 million in salary on 13 players. Orlando invited six players to camp, all on non-guaranteed summer contracts, to compete for two open roster spots. The Magic also have their $2.9 million Room Exception available.
Next summer, Orlando may reach $29 million in spending power under a $102 million salary cap. That assumes the team picks up the rookie-scale options on Aaron Gordon, Mario Hezonja, C.J. Wilcox and Elfrid Payton. Only $1 million of C.J. Watson’s $5 million salary is guaranteed for 2017-18. While Ibaka is eligible to have his contract restructured and extended, the Magic do not have the necessary cap space to get that kind of deal done.
– Eric Pincus
The theme of the Magic’s offseason was adding defense. They have a great defensive mind in Vogel on the sideline and they added a couple of very talented defenders in Ibaka and Biyombo to help the team improve on that end of the court. The Magic improved to 17th in defense last season under Scott Skiles, but they clearly would like to be significantly better this season. In addition to Ibaka and Biyombo, Payton and Gordon have emerged as great defenders as well.
– Cody Taylor
As strong defensively as the Magic may seem on paper, there are plenty of questions about their offense entering this season. The team failed to add a star through free agency and now they must decide who will become the squad’s go-to option. Vucevic led the team in scoring last season at 18.2 points per game, with Fournier next down the list at 15.4 points per game. Key players like Payton, Gordon and Biyombo are not known to be great scorers, which begs the question: Where will the scoring come from?
– Cody Taylor
THE BURNING QUESTION
Can the Magic finally break through into the playoffs?
With his bold statements, Vogel has set a playoff-or-bust atmosphere in his first season as Magic head coach. The team made a number of moves that signal their desire to win now and return to the postseason. While it seems as though the team’s defense will be much improved, there are still a lot of unanswered questions when it comes to how these pieces fit together. While the Magic certainly have the potential to improve their win total this year, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see them miss the playoffs for a fifth-straight season.
– Cody Taylor
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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