Following another season full of injuries, under-the-radar emergences and late-game losses, the Brooklyn Nets are nearly impossible to nail down.
Since the offseason began in July, the Nets have managed to move Timofey Mozgov’s albatross contract, draft two intriguing European prospects and add short-term pieces like Shabazz Napier and Ed Davis to the puzzle. Jeremy Lin, formerly presumed to be the next franchise point guard, was traded to Atlanta in a series of moves that brought Kenneth Faried and a protected first-round pick back in return. In bursts, the Nets have shown signs of life in recent years but that pesky injury bug has always derailed their efforts before too long.
While the roster and front office have both tentatively looked toward a playoff push this season, the Nets regained control of their own first-round draft pick for the first time in five years. Beyond that, Brooklyn has amassed a hearty collection of developing youngsters but, at this point, they’re still waiting for one of them to break out. Supplemented by veterans on low-cost deals — Jared Dudley and Treveon Graham included — the Nets may have the right mix of athleticism and experience to make some noise in the weaker conference.
To kick things off, here’s where the Basketball Insiders team projects the Nets to finish during the 2018-19 campaign.
FIVE GUYS THINK…
It’s much of the same moving forward for the Nets as the front office continues its workmanlike efforts to get out from under the massive hole the previous regime dug for this franchise. In their final year without their own first-round pick, the Nets once again used their open cap space to eat some dead money and pick up a future asset, this time absorbing Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur from the Nuggets in exchange for a 2019 first-rounder and a 2020 second. On the court, the Nets will be a similarly feisty but under-talented group – they’ll be looking for major court time and development from guys like D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen, with vets like Jared Dudley and Faried around to help mentor. They have enough depth that this could be a team that threatens for a lower playoff seed if the East is really as thin as it might seem to be, though whether that should be the ultimate priority at this point is debatable.
4th Place – Atlantic Division
– Ben Dowsett
The Nets are FREE! That should be the headline of their season. They finally control their own destiny again, which still leaves them as a mediocre team at best, but still. All credit should go to Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson for building a good foundation in such a bleak situation. The Nets had yet another subtly brilliant off-season, acquiring more assets while simultaneously getting out of paying long-term cash. With the solid group of veterans, they have to surround their solid group of young talent, the playoffs are a longshot, but not out of the question.
4th Place – Atlantic Division
– Matt John
Kenny Atkinson’s work with these Nets since the day he stepped foot in the organization’s headquarters has been nothing short of superb. He has the team believing in itself. His players are getting opportunities that they have earned and are flourishing because of it. Spencer Dinwiddie played spoiler almost all season long during clutch moments. D’Angelo Russell will be at full health to start the year and frontcourt players such as Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will keep improving as their careers become more and more established at this level. Unfortunately for Brooklyn, the Atlantic is no walk in the park.
4th Place – Atlantic Division
– Spencer Davies
The Brooklyn Nets didn’t land any superstars this offseason, but I think they arguably maximized their resources better than any other team this summer. The Nets made several moves to add talent while maintaining future flexibility. Among other moves, the Nets traded Timofey Mozgov, the rights to Hamidou Diallo (45th pick in this year’s draft), a 2021 second-rounder and $5 million to the Charlotte Hornets for Dwight Howard. They also moved Jeremy Lin’s contract, signed Shabazz Napier to a partially-guaranteed two-year $3,787,723 contract, signed Ed Davis to a one-year $4.4 million contract and signed Joe Harris to a two-year $16 million contract. These are some solid moves and we haven’t even discussed some other deals that landed the team some additional draft assets. Brooklyn also drafted Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs. Long story short, the Nets made creative moves that helped to add talent to the roster and maintain the team’s future cap flexibility. This Nets team is far from undoing the damage from the last regime but they are certainly trending in the right direction.
4th Place – Atlantic Division
– Jesse Blancarte
Rebuilding is a long and brutal process, but after years of trying to dig out from past mistakes, the Brooklyn Nets finally look like a team ready to do something. The roster has the right mix of veterans and young talent, they have a great head coach and if anyone on the roster pops into legit star status, the Nets could be a post-season team. If anything, the Nets will be scrappy, but in reality, they are likely the best kept secret in the East. Don’t be surprised if they win 40 or more games this year.
3rd Place – Atlantic Division
– Steve Kyler
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: D’Angelo Russell
It’s September, which means it’s officially time to write about Russell and his potential to become a superstar once again. After two turbulent campaigns with Los Angeles, Russell joined the Nets last offseason as the presumed centerpiece on a roster full of secondary options. Russell dropped 20-plus points in six of the Nets’ first 12 contests, but he underwent knee surgery in November, missed 32 games and then struggled to find that electric consistency in his return. Despite all that, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about Russell and he represents Brooklyn’s best chance of taking the next step as a franchise.
Heading into his fourth professional season, Russell is just 22 years old and often showcases the skills of an offensive juggernaut. Through 191 games, Russell has hit three or more three-pointers on 50 separate occasions already, even hitting career-best averages in the rebound (3.9) and assist (5.2) departments in 2017-18. With the aforementioned Lin out of the picture for good, the Nets hope he’ll lead a formidable 1-2 backcourt punch alongside Spencer Dinwiddie.
Ultimately though, Brooklyn will go as far as Russell takes them.
Top Defensive Player: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
For the Nets’ best defender, it’s easily Hollis-Jefferson — a long, hard-working 6-foot-7 forward that can practically guard four positions on the floor. Although Hollis-Jefferson’s offensive game improved considerably last season, the longest-tenured Nets’ biggest benefit is offering head coach Kenny Atkinson loads of positional flexibility. Hollis-Jefferson can guard faster opposition, switch admirably in the pick-and-roll and does a fine job of defending the perimeter, a trio of skills that make him the Nets’ poster child for versatility. His determined energy and ball-hawking nature have deservedly made Hollis-Jefferson a mainstay in Brooklyn’s crunch-time lineups since he was drafted in 2015.
Hollis-Jefferson is up for restricted free agency next July, so expect more of his nightmare-creating defense and small-ball athleticism all year long.
Top Playmaker: Jarrett Allen
Last September, it was fair to assume that the raw rookie might spend most of his year in the G-League — instead, Allen quickly became one of the league’s most interesting projects. The Nets started Allen off slowly, often using him in low-risk chances behind Tyler Zeller and Mozgov. But once he was truly unleashed, it was quite the introduction to the high-flying, shot-blocking 20-year-old. Truthfully, Allen is Brooklyn’s best playmaker because, well, he simply makes stuff happen, both on offense and defense. By all means, this is a slightly-altered twist on the normal connotation of a playmaker — but he literally just makes plays, it’s that easy.
From throwing down thunderous dunks to popping off the pick-and-roll or even smashing away a weak-side block, the Nets played so much better deploying Allen as the starting center. Although Russell is the better scorer, Dinwiddie the better passer, Allen Crabbe the better shooter and so on and so forth, there’s something magnetic about Allen. It could be his 58.9 percent tally from the field or his uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time — but the court seems to open up for everybody when Allen is on the floor.
In some cases, there’s no better definition of a playmaker.
Top Clutch Player: Spencer Dinwiddie
The recent third-place finisher for Most Improved Player has patiently waited his turn to be mentioned in a superlative category — admittedly, there’s an argument for Dinwiddie all over the place here. Even if Russell inches him out in overall offensive firepower, Dinwiddie definitively deserves the title of the Nets’ most clutch, as he proved periodically last year. Beyond saving the season after Lin and Russell went down, Dinwiddie thrived and lived for the fourth quarter’s biggest moments by hitting a multitude of tough crunch-time buckets.
For much of the year, Dinwiddie went toe-to-toe against the likes of C.J. McCollum and Russell Westbrook for game-tying or go-ahead shots in the final minute. At a fraction of the cost, Dinwiddie nearly carried the Nets through another frustrating season. Whether he was fearlessly bouncing off seven-footers in the paint or launching away from behind the arc, there’s no question that Dinwiddie is clutch — but what does he have in store for the encore?
The Unheralded Player: Kenneth Faried
At long last, Faried has been freed.
Following his breakout campaign way back in 2012-13 — 11.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game — Faried has seen his court opportunities decrease almost every year since, even falling to a paltry 14.4 minutes last season. Thanks to the emergence of Nikola Jokic and the recent addition of Paul Millsap, it’s no wonder that Faried had dropped out of the rotation — but now, he’s back in a golden situation. Faried, of course, is a somewhat limited player. He’s attempted 20 three-pointers (and made only two of them) and over his seven-year career, while 87.9 percent of his shots have come within 10 feet of the rim.
But for what he lacks in range, Faried makes up for it by being an absolute menace and a pest in the paint. Even during his rotation-shortened 2016-17 season, Faried managed to pull down nine or more rebounds in 25 games. The player that came closest to reaching that total for the Nets last year was DeMarre Carroll at 19. Generally speaking, if Faried gets his minutes, he’s a near-lock to rebound at an above average rate. For a team that struggled to do exactly that in crucial moments all last season, Faried should bounce back in a big way in Brooklyn.
Best New Addition: Ed Davis
Similarly to Faried, the newly-signed Davis fills a massive hole for the Nets in the frontcourt. He’s a strong rim protector — in Portland, opponents shot 43.6 percent against Davis in 2017-18, the best mark on the roster — and a steady rebounder. Supporters of the Trail Blazers were sorely disappointed when management let Davis walk this offseason, but their loss is most clearly the Nets’ gain. Quincy Acy, Timofey Mozgov, Jahlil Okafor and Dante Cunningham have all been moved on from, so Davis immediately becomes the first big off the bench.
He’ll presumably spend most of his minutes backing up Allen, but he’s got the versatility to spell Hollis-Jefferson and Carroll at power forward too. Davis won’t be the Nets’ long sought-after answer as a stretch four, but he’s excelled in every high-energy role he’s been handed since he joined the NBA in 2010. Due to his fantastic fit and impending opportunity, this could be a career-best campaign for Davis in black and white.
– Ben Nadeau
WHO WE LIKE
1. Sean Marks
For the second offseason running, general manager Sean Marks takes the top spot here — and why wouldn’t he? With the Nets still firmly looking toward free agency in 2019, Marks executed the rebuilding grand slam this summer. Not only did he acquire future draft assets, but Marks shed one the NBA’s worst contracts, unclogged positional jams and addressed the roster’s biggest weaknesses — all without taking on major salary commitments past this upcoming season.
To top it all off, Marks selected two highly-rated European prospects in Džanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs back in June’s draft. Although both rookies are far off from contributing on a nightly basis as they stand, Marks has quietly put together an assortment of prospects while replenishing picks and looking toward the future.
Under Marks, the Nets are in safe and sound hands, finally.
2. Caris LeVert
Alongside Dinwiddie, LeVert was one of the Nets that dutifully saved the sinking ship behind those crushing injuries at point guard. Thrown into the deep end, LeVert thrived as a playmaker and court general, upping his assists average from 1.9 to 4.2 almost overnight. In December, LeVert tossed out a career-best 11 assists to go with 12 points and five rebounds. Even better, the third-year professional made two or more three-pointers on 27 occasions, proving that some important strides of improvement are already here.
Even if he comes off the bench below Crabbe or Carroll, LeVert seemingly makes everyone around him better, regardless of the role he’s in that night — so expect big things from the flexible utility man in 2018-19.
3. Džanan Musa
On the topic of their rookies, Musa assuredly looks like he’s worth the excitement — maybe not in 2018, but in the very near future. Following Luka Dončić, Musa entered the NBA Draft as the most captivating overseas scorer and the Nets were happy to scoop him up at No. 29 overall. Musa himself believes he could play anywhere in the frontcourt — even at point guard — and at 6-foot-9, that’s a tasty proposition for Atkinson.
In April, Musa tallied 36 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds on 5-for-7 from three-point range for KK Cedevita off the bench — exhibiting the type of all-around game he may eventually possess. As of now, Musa will likely get spot minutes to spell Joe Harris and Carroll at small forward. Nevertheless, the Nets will need to be patient with Musa as he must get bigger and stronger before he can frequently contribute at the highest level. Either way, Musa is only 19 years old, the seventh-youngest player in the NBA this season.
4. Allen Crabbe
The acquisition of Crabbe last year came paired mixed feelings and his slow start didn’t convince many doubters either. But after settling in, Crabbe averaged career-highs almost across the board — in points, rebounds, three-pointers, assists and minutes — and launched from deep an astonishing 7.1 attempts per game, 13th-most in the entire league. As most sharpshooters go, when Crabbe is locked in, he’s a game-changer without hesitation, but he’ll need to find more consistency moving forward.
When Crabbe hit three or more three-pointers, the Nets went 14-18, a far cry from their 5-16 record when he made just one or zero from deep. For a team that jacked up the second-most three-pointers in 2017-18 — and registered a lukewarm 20th-ranked percentage on them — it’s evident that Crabbe will be a key cog in Brooklyn’s offense for the foreseeable future.
5. Joe Harris
Last, but definitely not least, is Harris, the Nets’ first official success story in the new regime. Brooklyn picked him off the scrap heap in 2016, but Harris fast became one of the team’s best shooters and defenders — eventually making him an asset they badly wanted to re-sign this summer. Harris’ 41.9 percent clip from three tied him for 16th-best in the NBA and he functioned side-by-side with Carroll as the Nets’ most reliable two-way players throughout 2017-18.
But given the Nets’ current status in purgatory, it was fair to wonder if Harris would take his renewed career and head to a contender. In lieu of that, Harris signed a two-year deal worth $16 million to stick around for a few extra attempts. As Brooklyn’s modern-looking offense gets further fleshed out and refined, there’s a fair chance that Harris will only continue to rise.
– Ben Nadeau
Everybody knows that the Nets’ biggest strengths lie within their three-point prowess. It’s not hyperbole to say that Brooklyn lived and died by the three in 2017-18 and it’s unlikely to change at this stage. However, they’ve now got the personnel to do so, so their nightly consistency simply needs to catch up to their fire-rate. But instead of regurgitating those statistics again, let’s look at another potential strength: the Nets’ positional flexibility.
All their point guards can play off-ball at the two, a group that now includes Shabazz Napier. Elsewhere, Musa believes he can handle those responsibilities and LeVert proved he could for much of the previous campaign. At 6-foot-5, Graham can guard multiple positions, a skill set that Carroll and Hollis-Jefferson both filled last season to great success. The duo of Faried and Davis give the Nets have two capable options backing up Allen, while both could play power forward when Carroll or Hollis-Jefferson slide up a position.
Given Brooklyn’s penchant for fast, three-point launching offensive sets, they’ll need their players to wear many different hats all year — for once, they might have the roster to pull it off.
– Ben Nadeau
It’s a sore subject in Brooklyn, but they’re another below average defense unit heading into 2018-19. The good news is that they’re trying and incrementally improving. The Nets have learned to defend the three-point line decently under Atkinson, but have lacked a second rim protector like Allen until now. Davis gives the Nets a sorely-needed upgrade in rim protection and Faried will help to ease any lingering rebound concerns.
More or less, the Nets have effectively addressed solutions for their most glaring weaknesses — all the same, there’s still a giant part missing: a superstar.
Enhanced team defense and three-point shooting are great, but until the Nets find a bonafide star to carry them through difficult, tight contests, this will remain their middling fate. Naturally, they hope to have a budding star in Russell already, but LeVert and Allen have both shown promising flashes in addition. Conclusively, the Nets are stuck in the 9th/10th/11th range as long as their roster is a compilation of second and third options, sadly.
– Ben Nadeau
THE BURNING QUESTION
The Nets can’t actually make the playoffs… right? (Version 2.0)
So here we are again, wondering the Nets could make a playoff push in the Eastern Conference. Here are the cliff notes summary in full: Brooklyn plays in the weaker conference, they are healthy (for now) and their young core is another year wiser. Thus far, Atkinson and Marks have steered their ship elegantly in the right direction, but it’ll be up to the players to finally put it all together.
For now, it’d be reasonable to say that the Nets have an early leg up on the Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic and, depending on how the Kristaps Porzingis situation unfolds in a few months, the New York Knicks. Unfortunately, that’s not a strong enough case to put the Nets as a definite playoff contender just yet — but it’s feasible to expect that they’ll hang around 9th or 10th place at the very least.
On the other hand, if D’Angelo Russell evolves into the star-caliber player he’s capable of becoming, then all bets would certainly be off.
– Ben Nadeau
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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