From 2008 to 2017 the Atlanta Hawks reached the playoffs in 10 consecutive seasons. During this time the team never seemed to get the mainstream respect it deserved, but the wins kept flowing. From head coaches Mike Woodson to Larry Drew to Mike Budenholzer. From the team’s revolving door of key players such as Joe Johnson, Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Josh Smith and Kyle Korver. The Hawks were able to become playoff fixtures amid a sea of constant change.
But the 2017-18 campaign ushered in the beginning of a lengthy rebuild as general manager and head of basketball operations Travis Schlenk elected to take the franchise into a new direction. Year one of the project wasn’t anywhere close to pretty as the Hawks stumbled to just 24 wins – their lowest victory total since the 2005 campaign. To be fair, massive rebuilding projects, especially at the beginning are rarely attractive to fans.
Heading into the 2018-19 season, the Hawks have major question marks surrounding the team. The Hawks will look to break in first time head coach Lloyd Pierce and must somehow overcome the departure of last season’s leading scorer and primary floor general Dennis Schroder. The Hawks have a promising mix of youth and a solid mix of veteran contributors but unless the young guns grow up in a hurry, the road back to the land of playoff contention is likely years away.
FIVE GUYS THINK…
In a league where very few teams are truly entering the season already in tank mode, the Hawks are something of an exception. Where even other bottom-feeders from last season have at least made token attempts at on-court improvements, the Hawks have gone the other way entirely. They used big open cap space to absorb and then waive Carmelo Anthony from the Thunder, acquiring a future first-rounder and shedding Dennis Schroder’s contract simultaneously in the process. They acquired another first (top-5 protected from Dallas in 2019) in a draft day trade that saw them move down a couple spots to take Trae Young while sending Luka Doncic to the Mavericks. They mitigated things to a small degree by acquiring Jeremy Lin and Vince Carter in later summer moves to bolster their veteran presence a bit, but the message is clear: The Hawks are building around Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter and their other youth, and their development is the clear priority over winning games in 2018-19.
5th Place – Southeast Division
– Ben Dowsett
First-year head coach Lloyd Pierce has a project ahead of him when it comes to flipping the script with these Hawks. That’s not to say they don’t have talent. Granted he stays the course, Taurean Price is a real candidate for most improved player in my eyes. If healthy, Jeremy Lin is one of the more underrated point guards in the league. John Collins is going to blossom into a walking double-double before we even know it. Adding college basketball star Trae Young and national champion Omari Spellman to the squad should excite fans. Even with all of that said, however, the rebuild is only beginning in Atlanta.
5th Place – Southeast Division
– Spencer Davies
With Coach Bud and Dennis Schroder out of the picture, the rebuild is in full swing in Atlanta. There’s not much to say about the Hawks at the moment since they’re going to be one of the league’s worst teams. Their whole season pretty much revolves around Trae Young, the most polarizing prospect to come out of the draft, along with their other young talent such as Taurean Prince and John Collins. The Hawks as of now don’t have a young franchise cornerstone until Young proves otherwise, but they have reason to hope for their future.
5th Place – Southeast Division
– Matt John
The Hawks lived the NBA purgatory of being just good enough not to be great for too many years not to see something like the rebuild they are in the middle of coming. While no NBA team is going to be as brazen about tanking as the Philadelphia 76ers were under Sam Hinkie, the Hawks are coming in as a close second under current GM Travis Schlenk. The good news is the last two runs through the NBA draft have yielded gems with great upside and the Hawks found a way out of their ugly contract money, clearing the way for the young players to get minutes while not accumulating a lot of wins. The Hawks should be in the Eastern Conference basement for another year at best, so we’ll see if those draft gems turn into cornerstones and how patient ownership will be with a prolonged rebuild. Few front offices survive the tank-method, let alone tanks that don’t produce cornerstones.
5th Place – Southeast Division
– Steve Kyler
Last year the Atlanta Hawks committed to rebuilding its roster from top to bottom. This offseason, general manager Travis Schlenk made some bold moves, such as trading the rights to Luka Doncic to the Dallas Mavericks for Trae Young and Dallas’ 2019 first-round draft pick (top-5 protected). Atlanta may come to regret that move if Doncic proves to be a star player and Young’s dynamic skill set doesn’t fully translate to the NBA. Young is now a major part of the young core of talent Atlanta is trying to bolster, which includes John Collins and Taurean Prince, among a few others. Player development and moving forward in their long-term rebuild will be the main focus of the upcoming season, so don’t expect Atlanta to hang around in the playoff race too long. But this team now has a long-term vision and is now fully committed to executing it. So while the team will struggle on the court this season, Atlanta’s fans should take solace in the fact that there is a plan in place to rebuild this roster and a front office that is committed to seeing it through.
5th Place – Southeast Division
– Jesse Blancarte
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Trae Young
In 32 collegiate games for Oklahoma, Young averaged a whopping 27.4 points per outing on 42 percent shooting from the floor, 36 percent from three-point range and 86 percent from the charity stripe. The dynamic guard was chosen with the fifth overall pick in the 2018 draft by the Dallas Mavericks and then traded to Atlanta for the rights to Luka Doncic. There are legitimate questions on whether Young’s scoring prowess will translate at the next level and how much time he will need to develop. But since the Hawks shipped Schroder to Oklahoma City during the offseason, playing time won’t be an issue in Atlanta’s backcourt.
Young was up and down during summer league play and its clear opponents’ game plan will be geared toward being physical and not letting him reach his sweet spots. Despite the offensive shakiness, Young still managed to snag second-team All-NBA Summer League honors in Las Vegas.
There are a couple of veterans on the Hawks’ roster with a more refined offensive arsenal, but none possess the immense upside Young has when it comes to putting the ball into the hoop.
Top Defensive Player: Dewayne Dedmon
Last season Dedmon made the transition from promising journeyman to nightly contributor – with relative ease. Dedmon led the team with 7.9 rebounds per contest and finished second in blocks behind rookie John Collins. From a defensive standpoint, Dedmon finished with a team-leading defensive rating of 107 per 100 possessions, according to Basketball Reference. Heading into last season most would have projected Taurean Prince would occupy this space, however, after a campaign full of defensive lapses, Dedmon proved to be the most consistent Hawks defender.
Top Playmaker: Jeremy Lin
Lin, entering his ninth season, has experienced almost all the game has to offer. From being an undrafted afterthought to a taste of superstardom (Linsanity), to becoming a full-time starter and playoff contributor. Lin is in the final year of his current deal and will presumably be asked to be a veteran presence with Schroder now in Oklahoma City and while Young navigates treacherous rookie campaign terrain. Lin will never be a high volume assist guy but for this young Hawks team and rookie head coach, he just may become a calming influence in the midst of the rebuilding project.
Top Clutch Player: Jeremy Lin
Eventually, the team hopes Young will be the go-to guy down the stretch. But until that time comes to fruition, you can expect the ball to be in the hands of Lin in late game situations. The Hawks are an extremely young team filled of players with less than three years of experience. Veterans such as Lin, Kent Bazemore and to a smaller degree Vince Carter, will be counted on to help cultivate Atlanta’s youth movement.
The Unheralded Player: Dewayne Dedmon
Dedmon easily was the Hawks’ biggest acquisition in 2017. The center attempted only one three-pointer is his first four seasons as a professional. Last season, Dedmon attempted 141 shots beyond the arc and nailed 36 percent of them in an expanded role. Dedmon averaged 10 points and 7.9 rebounds for the campaign in under 25 minutes per contest. The veteran also plays a significant role in the team’s defensive efforts. Guys like Dedmon don’t get many headlines for doing the dirty work, but on a team with plenty of guys learning how to be pros, he provides a good example.
Best New Addition: Trae Young
Schlenk was in Golden State when the Warriors also drafted a guard with a smallish stature coming out of college in the lottery. You may have heard of him, his name is Stephen Curry. Obviously, Schlenk sees similarities between Curry and Young and their styles of play. No one is projecting Young to become Curry, but what the dynamic guard does represent is an explosive talent with very high upside.
Atlanta basketball has been accused in the past of being too conservative or playing it too safe. With the acquisition of Young, the team is swinging for the fences in what could be the ultimate boom or bust scenario in a few years.
— Lang Greene
WHO WE LIKE
1. Kent Bazemore
It’s hard to find much to dislike about Bazemore and his journey from being an undrafted fringe player to a bona fide full-time starter. Bazemore is on the books for $18 million this season and holds a player option for $19 million in the 2020 campaign. It’s unclear of the team’s long-term plans for Bazemore but after a down year in 2017, the veteran responded with a career high in points (12.9), assists (3.5) and three-point accuracy (39 percent) last season. Bazemore is the last holdover from Hawks of years past. When the wing came to Atlanta the team’s leading scorers were Millsap, Teague, Horford, DeMarre Carroll and Korver. Times have definitely changed, but expect the same Bazemore night in and night out.
2. Vince Carter
The Hall of Fame will one day likely come calling for Carter. Until then, Atlanta is the latest stop for the 41-year-old guard out of the University of North Carolina. Carter is just 132 points shy of 25,000 for his career, a milestone he should hit within 40 games played based off of last year’s production. Carter is no longer the high flying franchise player he was during his prime years, but he is the perfect elder statesman for a team of young guys still learning how to be pros. Temper your expectations and don’t expect high usage from Carter on a nightly basis. His role in Atlanta is about veteran leadership and mentorship to the young guys.
3. Lloyd Pierce
Pierce, a former college backcourt mate of impending Hall of Famer Steve Nash, is in his first stint as a head coach after previous stops around the league as an assistant. Pierce worked as an assistant coach with Cleveland, Golden State and Memphis before a five-year stint in Philadelphia. The similarity between the Hawks’ current rebuilding situation and Philadelphia’s own restructuring efforts undoubtedly played a role in his hire with Atlanta. Pierce is Schlenk’s guy and that’s always important for a new general manager implementing a rebuild. The 42-year-old promises to bring a defensive mindset and energy to the team.
4. John Collins
Collins was named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team last season and became the first Hawks player since Al Horford to be named All-Rookie. Selected No. 19 overall in 2017, Collins averaged 10.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 74 appearances.
The potential for Collins to take another jump in 2019 is there for the taking, especially with a new head coach preaching energy and defense. Collins led the Hawks in blocked shots and finished second on the team in rebounding. And when you look at advanced stats such as PER (18.3), true shooting percentage (62 percent) and win shares (5.4) it becomes clear that the Hawks may have found something special outside of the lottery in 2017.
Youth. These young Hawks are going to sneak up on plenty of older teams throughout the season, especially on back-to-backs or short road swings. The reason? Young legs and new head coach Lloyd Pierce’s commitment to defensive intensity. The Hawks are simply too young to know any better and will push teams up and down the court. Atlanta will have its fair share of upsets this season because of their youthful exuberance.
— Lang Greene
Experience. The lack of experience will ultimately hinder the flight of these young Hawks. Jeremy Lin figures to play a prominent role in the starting backcourt, but he played in just one game last season due to a ruptured patella. The team traded away its leading scorer and primary ball handler, Dennis Schroder, in order to make room for rookie Trae Young. Vince Carter is a future Hall of Famer with loads of experience but can no longer be counted on to carry a heavy load nightly. Even rookie head coach Lloyd Pierce, despite plenty of stops around the league, is in his first role as the leading shot caller. The roster is loaded with promising (and unproven) young talent. The Hawks will show flashes of the future, but winning in the NBA comes down to veteran laden teams winning down the stretch. This is where the Hawks will struggle.
— Lang Greene
THE BURNING QUESTION
How long will the Atlanta Hawks’ rebuilding project last?
Rebuilding projects are ugly. Rebuilding projects are painful for the fans to endure. Rebuilding projects don’t help franchises land marquee free agents. Rebuilding projects don’t necessarily equate into securing a franchise player in the draft. So the question is, how long will the Hawks’ project last? It took Brett Brown and the Philadelphia 76ers four seasons to reach the playoffs. But the Sixers also have two generational type of talents at the top of its roster in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The Hawks don’t have a player close to that pedigree in the fold just yet. Rookie Trae Young is the wildcard. If Young is ready right out of the cereal box to perform and John Collins doesn’t suffer a sophomore slump the team will be on a positive trajectory. However, any slippage from these two pillars could derail some of the early positives gained from Schlenk’s short tenure at the helm.
— Lang Greene
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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