The San Antonio Spurs, and the NBA as a whole, said goodbye to future Hall-of-Famer Tim Duncan this offseason. Duncan was 39 years old throughout the majority of last season, but he was still one of the more effective defenders in the league for periods. Father Time finally started catching up to Duncan as he struggled to defend effectively against quicker and more athletic teams and it wasn’t apparent that things would improve moving forward.
With Duncan gone, the Spurs acquired Pau Gasol in free agency to pair alongside LaMarcus Aldridge in the frontcourt. Neither Aldridge nor Gasol can defend like Duncan could, but both are talented offensive players who should give other teams trouble on most nights. Other big men such as David Lee and Dewayne Dedmon were added as well. Now, it’s up to Gregg Popovich to do what he does best: take a collection of returning players and incoming players and get them to play like they’ve been teammates for years. If anyone can achieve this, it’s Pop. However, this will be the first time he will be doing so without his franchise big man serving as the focal point on both ends of the court.
Basketball Insiders previews the San Antonio Spurs’ 2016-17 season.
FIVE GUYS THINK
If any team in the Western Conference can challenge the Golden State Warriors in a seven-game series, I’d say it’s the Spurs. Gregg Popovich is one of the best coaches in the history of this sport, Kawhi Leonard is a freak of nature (on both ends of the court now) and LaMarcus Aldridge is a defender’s nightmare. As my colleagues mentioned, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have declined, but they aren’t asked to do nearly as much for this team anymore. One of the most impressive things about San Antonio’s roster, in my opinion, is their depth. In addition to the players mentioned above, they also have Danny Green, Pau Gasol, David Lee, Dewayne Dedmon (a sneaky-good signing), Kyle Anderson, Patty Mills and Jonathon Simmons as well as incoming youngsters Davis Bertans, Livio Jean-Charles, Dejounte Murray and Patricio Garino. It’s sad to see Tim Duncan retire after his incredible career, especially because he was still capable of producing. But even without the future Hall of Famer, the Spurs are extremely talented, well-coached and deep. It’s also worth noting that Aldridge should be more comfortable and productive this year since he’s no longer getting acclimated to his new situation. His adjustment period wasn’t discussed much last season since he played well and the Spurs won so many games, but it’s very possible that Aldridge will be even better in 2016-17 since he’s more familiar with his teammates, coaches and system.
1st Place – Southwest Division
– Alex Kennedy
Even though Tim Duncan was Kirk-Douglas-old by the end of last season and understandably chose retirement over another 90+ games of the NBA grind, he’s not a guy a team just replaces. Honestly, Pau Gasol was about as good as San Antonio was going to do, and he’ll be a nice fit in the frontcourt alongside LaMarcus Aldridge. Duncan’s send-off also means this is Kawhi Leonard’s show now, but we’ve seen this transition coming for a year or two now. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are still around, and there are plenty of other typical Spurs roster components in the mix for 2016-17. They’ve got a young kid ready to break out in Kyle Anderson, an underrated-yet-universally-adored rookie in Dejounte Murray, a bargain-basement vet in David Lee and a couple of international lottery tickets who just couldn’t wait to give it a go with San Antonio. That sounds like the same recipe for success this team has been using so well for almost 20 years.
1st Place – Southwest Division
– Joel Brigham
Losing Tim Duncan is significant and I’m not sure Pau Gasol, at this stage in his career, addresses the biggest concerns for the Spurs. Gasol is a good passer and an intelligent all-around player, but a lot of his offensive work comes from midrange – an area where the Spurs are arguably generating too much of their offense. While there are concerns, this roster is proven and plays well together. Also, Gregg Popovich is adaptive and knows how to structure his systems to the personnel available to him. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are another year older, so rest throughout the season will be a priority. I’m expecting young players like Kyle Anderson and Jonathon Simmons take on even bigger roles this season. Despite losing Duncan and some other veterans, I expect the Spurs to be competing at the top of the Western Conference with the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers.
1st Place – Southwest Division
– Jesse Blancarte
For the first time in nearly 20 years, the Spurs will head to training camp without Tim Duncan on the roster. While Duncan’s physical skills had already begun to erode, the future Hall of Famer marked an era of excellence and stability for the franchise and the transition period could get rough. However, the Spurs have an extremely strong infrastructure in place and forward Kawhi Leonard could be headed for superstardom. The club also signed veteran big man Pau Gasol over the summer and he’ll provide another strong offensive option in the paint alongside forward LaMarcus Aldridge. The talent level in San Antonio is still title contention worthy. Don’t sleep.
1st Place – Southwest Division
– Lang Greene
Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett all decided to leave us in the same offseason, and that makes me sad. I’m sure fans of the San Antonio Spurs are a bit more sad than I am, but the silver lining is that Pau Gasol will serve as the replacement for Duncan in the lineup. Gasol has always been a team-first guy. Although he’s a bit long in the tooth himself, he still sees the floor well and is a good post defender. I think he will fit right in with the Spurs and along with Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, should help Gregg Popovich’s team win their sixth Southwest Division title over the past seven years. The biggest concern I would have for the Spurs would be at the point guard position. If something happens to Tony Parker, they could be sailing down the Riverwalk with no paddle. But since we cannot predict injuries and no other team in the division stacks up better against the Spurs than they did last year, I’d be wiling to bet that Leonard and Aldridge help these guys repeat, especially since they too had a legitimate shot of winning 70 games last year.
1st Place — Southwest Division
– Moke Hamilton
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Kawhi Leonard
Leonard was already the Spurs’ best all-around player and he’s now clearly the franchise’s most important player with Duncan out of the picture. Leonard has turned himself into a top-notch offensive player since he’s become a knock-down shooter from three-point range, a creator who can take opponents off the dribble and a strong finisher at the basket. Perhaps the next step for Leonard is turning himself into more of a playmaker from the forward position, but that is being nitpicky considering how good he already is. There are few players in the league who are as effective or efficient on offense as Leonard, who will likely be in the MVP discussion this upcoming season.
Top Defensive Player: Kawhi Leonard
Leonard has won Defensive Player of the Year two years in a row for a reason. With long arms, great footwork, unwavering discipline and solid instincts, Leonard is a menace on defense and makes life difficult for top-level players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant each time he faces them. Defense in the NBA continues to evolve, as players like Leonard and Draymond Green are able to guard players as fast as John Wall and as big as Blake Griffin. Leonard also ranks at the top of the league in most advanced metrics, finishing last season second in Defensive Win Shares and third in Defensive Rating. There was an argument that Duncan was the Spurs’ most important defensive player, but now it’s clear that Leonard is the Spurs’ most effective and important defender.
Top Playmaker: Tony Parker
While Parker may not register double-digit assists each night, he is still an effective playmaker for the Spurs. The Spurs’ movement-based, pass-happy offense is what generates open looks for the Spurs rather than a single ball-dominant playmaker. Parker could possibly average more assists per game if he played for another team, but Parker understands his role on offense and doesn’t try to do more than is required of him. Parker isn’t as quick as he used to be, but he’s still a tough cover when he attacks the rim, which is when he usually finds an open teammate on the perimeter.
Top Clutch Player: LaMarcus Aldridge
It’s not easy to peg any single player as the Spurs’ top clutch player. The Spurs scored 30.5 percent of their points from midrange in clutch situations last season (by far the highest mark in the league), which should come as a surprise considering how much of their offense was geared towards opening up shots from that distance. Whether it was Duncan, Leonard, Aldridge or Parker, the Spurs’ offense generally created opportunities for players to get a nice look at the end of games. While there are several choices here, we are going to go with Aldridge considering his offensive skill set, ability to operate in isolation and pick-and-pop situations, and his ability to get his shot off against just about any defender.
The Unheralded Player: Danny Green
Green had a down season in 2015-16 in just about every way imaginable. Whether it was due to injuries, adapting to playing with new teammates like Aldridge or the pressure of playing on a new contract, Green simply wasn’t himself last year. However, Green is still one of the better perimeter defenders in the NBA and he will need to be at his best, along with Leonard, for the Spurs to have a shot at slowing down the Warriors and other teams with talented scorers and shooters on the wings. Green also needs to get his three-point shooting back to his usual 40 percent range to spread the court for Aldridge and Gasol, who occupy the same areas on the court.
Top New Addition: Pau Gasol
With Duncan, Boris Diaw, David West and Boban Marjanović no longer on the team, the Spurs signed Gasol, David Lee and Dewayne Dedmon to shore up the frontcourt. Gasol is the most important player of the three considering the fact that he is effectively replacing Duncan. Gasol still has a good amount of skill left in his game even if the athleticism isn’t quite there anymore. His impact on the defensive end leaves a lot to be desired, so he is going to need to focus in on making the right rotations at the right time to ensure that he is getting proper help when necessary. Gasol and Aldridge are going to be key components for the Spurs this season, so the sooner they can develop chemistry and learn to play off one another, the better off the Spurs will be.
– Jesse Blancarte
WHO WE LIKE
1. Gregg Popovich
Popovich is widely regarded as the best coach in the NBA, and his resume backs that up. He has won five championships, three Coach of the Year awards (and he should have more) and 1,089 regular season games throughout his career. In the postseason, he has a 158-98 record. Perhaps most impressive is that Pop can win with various types of personnel and systems. Because of that versatility, he has thrived with grind-it-out, defensive-minded teams as well as fast-paced, offensive juggernauts. As long as Popovich is on the sideline, the Spurs will be a legitimate contender.
2. Kawhi Leonard
Leonard is one of the best overall players in the league, despite what Jason Terry may think about his game. Some have tried to peg him as a system player or the beneficiary of having so much talent around him, but it’s all nonsense. Leonard has kept his head down and worked hard to become one of the best overall players in the game. At age 25, Leonard is barely entering his prime and figures to keep improving.
3. LaMarcus Aldridge
Aldridge did a pretty solid job of integrating himself into the Spurs’ system last season. With Duncan gone, it will be up to him and Leonard to put this team on their collective shoulders and lead them to a deep playoff run. Aldridge may be 31 years old now, but his methodical game is still as sharp as ever. The real test for Aldridge will be trying to step into Duncan’s role on defense, which is something he may not be equipped to do (not many players are).
4. Manu Ginobili
Ginobili, 39, is entering his 14th NBA season. He has a ton of miles on his body and is not able to make some of the acrobatic and wild plays he used to when he was younger. But Ginobili goes all out and doesn’t care about age; he still plays with the same intensity and fearlessness as he did when he first entered the league.
– Jesse Blancarte
SALARY CAP 101
The Spurs opened up space under the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap – trading Boris Diaw to the Utah Jazz – to ink Pau Gasol. The team also used its $2.9 million Room Exception on Dewayne Dedmon, and re-signed Manu Ginobili via his Bird Rights. Now over the cap, San Antonio has 14 guaranteed players, with four players vying for one open roster spot (Patricio Garino, Ryan Arcidiacono, Bryn Forbes and Ryan Richards. Tim Duncan retired with $5.6 million in guaranteed salary, which the Spurs will pay out over the next three years at $1.9 million a season.
Next summer, San Antonio could near $26 million in space under a $102 million projected salary cap. That assumes the team picks up the rookie-scale option on Kyle Anderson. David Lee, who signed a two-year minimum contract, Gasol and Dedmon can all opt out of the second years on their respective deals. If Gasol does not opt out, he’ll take up $16.2 million of that potential cap space.
– Eric Pincus
Defensive and offensive efficiency, coaching and chemistry are this team’s strengths. I know, that’s a lot of strengths. Last year, the Spurs held opponents to just 96.6 points per 100 possessions (best in the NBA) and scored 108.4 points per 100 possessions (third-best in the NBA). They were seventh in assist percentage, second in assist-to-turnover ratio, fourth in rebound percentage, second in effective field goal percentage and third in true shooting percentage. Simply put, this team was destructive last season and that doesn’t figure to change even with the loss of Duncan. There will be some drop off in a few areas, but Duncan’s role had already significantly diminished last year, so it shouldn’t be too big of a dip. It doesn’t seem to matter who happens to be playing for the Spurs in any given season, as Coach Popovich always manages to maximize his roster.
– Jesse Blancarte
There aren’t many major weaknesses for this team; if anything, the team could struggle with injuries considering the age of their core players. Parker is 34, Ginobili is 39, Gasol is 36 and even Aldridge is now 31. The Spurs take an aggressive approach with resting players to avoid wearing them down before the postseason, but that doesn’t guarantee it won’t be an issue for this team. In addition to age and the risk of injuries, I think the loss of Boris Diaw will be felt more than some people expect. Diaw was a perfect fit for the Spurs, providing both underrated playmaking and defense. Gasol is the better player, but that doesn’t mean Diaw won’t be missed. Lastly, the loss of Duncan could be felt in the locker room as much as on the court. Duncan was the heart and soul of the franchise for two decades. Losing that shouldn’t be taken lightly. This team has an excellent foundation and other experienced veterans to help stabilize the team after the loss of Duncan, but it’s impossible to completely replace a legend.
– Jesse Blancarte
THE BURNING QUESTION
Can the Spurs overcome the juggernauts in the Bay Area?
If you haven’t heard, the Golden State Warriors won 73 regular season games last season and then added Kevin Durant this summer. Any team in the West that has hopes of making it to the NBA Finals has to get through the Warriors first and that includes the almighty Spurs. The Warriors were favored over the Spurs by many last season when Durant was still in Oklahoma City and Duncan was still in town.
The Spurs could conceivably take a step forward thanks to internal development from Leonard and improved chemistry from Aldridge, who enters his second season with the team. And if there’s any team that can push the Warriors in the West, it’s likely the Spurs considering their talent, the fact that Leonard is the perfect defender to guard Durant and since Popovich is one of the few coaches in the league savvy enough to find some schemes that could stunt the Warriors. It may look like a long shot at the moment, but the Spurs will have as good a shot as any team to put some pressure on the Warriors next season.
– Jesse Blancarte
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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