It’s been the summer of change for the Golden State Warriors. After helping them to back to back championships and three straight NBA Finals appearances, Kevin Durant left to the Brooklyn Nets. Not only that but longtime veterans Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, who were key players on title teams, are also gone. To make matters worse, Klay Thompson is expected to miss a good portion of the season while he recovers from an ACL injury.
It’s not all gloom and doom for the Warriors, however. Stephen Curry and Draymond Green are still around. Thompson is probably going to be back sometime after the All-Star break. D’Angelo Russell, one of the top rising stars in the league is now in the Bay Area. There is enough left to still make the Warriors a formidable team. There’s going to be some question marks regarding the bench, but there’s no reason to believe this team still isn’t one of the better teams in the Western Conference.
FIVE GUYS THINK…
How the mighty have fallen. The Warriors were seemingly set to rule the Western Conference, and the NBA, for quite a while. But a couple of injuries later, and everything changed. The Warriors have fallen back down to Earth and have rejoined the rest of the pack. That’s not to say they won’t still be among the NBA’s elite. As long as they have the core group of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, they will be a contender. Thompson will likely be out until the All-Star Break at the earliest, but they have a replacement in D’Angelo Russell. The main area of concern, however, is going to be the bench. Their depth has been one of their strengths in years past, but this season it’s a bit of a question mark. They have players capable of playing big roles off the bench with Willie Cauley Stein, Alec Burks, Omari Spellman and Glenn Robinson III, but those players haven’t exactly been the models for consistency. Steve Kerr has seemingly managed to get the most out of his players though it’s possible they end up forming a good second unit.
2nd Place – Pacific Division
– David Yapkowitz
The Warriors dynasty seems to be a thing of the past. But that does not mean they’re in need of a rebuild. They still have their big-three under contract for the foreseeable future (Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green). And while none of them are as durable and effective as they were a few years back, they are still all top-5 league-wide in their respective positions. They also made out pretty well in Durant’s departure – returning D’Angelo Russell; especially considering Durant could have walked for nothing. Unfortunately, that move also cost the Dubs Andre Iguodala. Shaun Livingston left, too – recently announcing his retirement. While the Warriors might be taking a wait-and-see approach with Russell, it might be in their best interest to swap him out for additional depth if they hope to continue to compete for championships with their current team.
3rd Place – Pacific Division
– Drew Maresca
With Kevin Durant off to Brooklyn, Andre Iguodala idle in Memphis and Shaun Livingston retired, the Golden State Warriors have had some major losses. Even Klay Thompson, who tore his ACL in the NBA Finals, is out until late winter or early spring. So the question everybody has is: Is the dynasty over? The Dubs don’t think so. We’ll see an unfamiliar duo with Stephen Curry and a rising star in D’Angelo Russell, which should make for a blazing backcourt. Looking at the additions of Willie Cauley-Stein and Omari Spellman – along with the return of Kevon Looney – the big man situation is solidified on both ends. Draymond Green is still the straw that stirs the drink. There’s a possibility that Jacob Evans breaks out as a second unit sensation, in addition to Summer League starling Alen Smailagic and Villanova standout Eric Paschall. Steve Kerr still has two-thirds of his original core to work with, so let’s not be foolish and eliminate Golden State from the playoffs in our minds. The five-game NBA Finals appearance streak though? That could be in jeopardy.
3rd Place – Pacific Division
– Spencer Davies
Eventually, every NBA dynasty comes to an end. While the Warriors still have Steph Curry and Draymond Green and that is a ton more than some teams have, the juggernaut is no more and the Warriors are mortal again. Klay Thompson will likely miss most if not all of the 2019-20 NBA season, which means if the Warriors are smart about their long-term future, this season will be more about “load management” with an emphasis on developing their newfound youth. The surprise addition of D’Angelo Russell gives the Warriors an interesting All-Star level guy to look at before the trade deadline, so it’s not as if the Warriors will head to the NBA basement, but winning more than 45-50 games seems unlikely given the circumstances.
4th Place – Pacific Division
– Steve Kyler
It’s unfortunate that the Golden State Warriors were hit with several devastating injuries to key players in the 2018-19 playoffs. In the aftermath, Kevin Durant is now a member of the Brooklyn Nets, Klay Thompson is still a Warrior but will be rehabbing well into the season and Golden State is now led by just Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. Any team would be thrilled to have Curry and Green leading the team, but these are the Warriors, who have been historically dominant and talented over the last few seasons. Despite having very little depth on the roster, I do believe that Curry, Green and new addition D’Angelo Russell could lead the Warriors into the playoffs. However, I also will not be surprised if this team underperforms or is edged out of the postseason by a dangerous, fringe playoff team like the Sacramento Kings. The first six spots in the Western Conference place are, as of now, seemingly locked in by the top teams in the West. There are two spots open for a few teams to fight over and I’m just not sure where Golden State will end up. A lot will depend on how quickly Klay Thompson can return to action and play at his usual levels.
3rd Place – Pacific Division
– Jesse Blancarte
FROM THE CAP GUY
The Warriors responded quickly to Kevin Durant’s intention to leave for the Brooklyn Nets, orchestrating a dual sign and trade that brought in All-Star D’Angelo Russell on a five-year $117.3 million max contract. The goal is to integrate Russell into the team’s core, but if he doesn’t fit their style of play, he can be traded after December 15. The Russell deal also triggered a hard cap for the Warriors at $138.9 million, which is why the team felt compelled first to deal Andre Iguodala to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Golden State will pay the repeater tax after this season, should they remain over the $132.6 million threshold. Currently, the team has roughly $138.6 million in guaranteed salary in just 13 players. Should they finish the year at $138.9 million in payroll, they’ll pay $16 million in tax. Given the team had initially prepared to pay Durant the maximum (while retaining Iguodala), the tax bill is probably a relief to what the team had originally expected.
– Eric Pincus
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Stephen Curry
Curry remains a top 5-6 player in the league and one of the most explosive offensive threats. He is a threat to score from literally anywhere on the court. He is the motor that has kept the Warriors running the past few seasons and the driving force behind their championship teams. He obviously hasn’t had to shoulder the offensive load as much when Durant was on the team, but this season is going to be different.
This past season, at the age of 30, he continued his efficient scoring, He averaged 27.3 points per game while shooting 47.2 percent from the field, 43.7 percent from the three-point line, and 91.6 percent from the free-throw line. During the 2015-16 season, the season before Durant arrived, Curry vaulted himself into the vaunted 50/40/90 club while averaging a career-high 30.1 points per game. Now with Durant gone, and Thompson out to start the season, don’t be shocked to see Curry return to those levels of scoring. Sure he has a little more wear and tear on his body, but he’s still in the prime of his career. Look for some big offensive performances from him this season.
Top Defensive Player: Draymond Green
There’s no question about it, Green is the heart and soul of the Warriors defense. He’s been the catalyst that’s made the Warriors one of the best defensive teams in the league. He’s arguably the most versatile defensive player in the league right now, capable of bodying up big men in the post, being an interior shot blocker, and able to cover guard and wings on the perimeter.
Green will also have some help behind him with Kevon Looney expected to be the full-time starter at center. Together the duo will be one of the best defensive frontcourts in the league. Green will have a legit shot blocker behind him, so he can afford to be a little bit more aggressive on the perimeter. Green has never been one to shy away from a challenge, and with many predicting the Warriors demise, it’s just the sort of thing to light another fire under him and see his name mentioned again in the Defensive Player of the Year race.
Top Playmaker: D’Angelo Russell
Yes, I know Curry is still on the team and is one of the best in the league with ball in his hands. But things are different in the Bay this season. Adjustments are going to have to be made and Steve Kerr is going to have to put his players in the best possible situations to succeed. Curry is also one of, if not the best off-ball player in the NBA. It’s a nightmare for defenders to chase him around multiple screens as he looks to get open. Russell has emerged as one of the better playmakers in the league. It’s not at all farfetched to imagine Russell being the primary ball-handler.
Russell thrives with the ball in his hands and he averaged 7.0 assists last season; more than Curry. He also isn’t as good a catch and shoot player as Curry is, nor is he as efficient moving without the ball. It might be in Golden State’s best interest to shake things up a little bit and allow Russell to facilitate the offense while Curry plays more off-ball. If that happens, look for Russell’s assist numbers to shoot up.
Top Clutch Player: Klay Thompson
Sure he’s going to be out for the first half of the season, but Thompson is arguably the most clutch player on the team, and certainly one of the best in the league. His 41 points in Game 6 of the 2016 Western Conference Finals, with the Warriors facing elimination, is legendary. Last season, before he got hurt in Game 5 of the Finals, he was well on his way to another amazing elimination game performance.
Clutch doesn’t just mean hitting big shots in the fourth quarter — clutch is also measured by a player’s overall performance in big games. Thompson is certainly capable of hitting big shots down the stretch, he’s done it multiple times. But he seemingly rises to the occasion in the playoff when the Warriors have needed a huge game. He’s going to have that extra motivation when he returns to the court, and the Warriors will be well off for it.
The Unheralded Player: Jacob Evans III
Evans rarely saw the court last season as a rookie and he spent most of his time in the G League with the Santa Cruz Warriors. But with the overhaul of the Warriors bench, Evans is going to be called upon to give the team some quality production. He’s primarily a wing player who can split time at both shooting guard and small forward, but he’s going to be leaned upon to provide minutes at point guard this season.
During Summer League, he was given an opportunity to ease into his new position. He did a solid job, showing off nice court vision and awareness with the ball in his hands as the primary facilitator. It’s going to be his job to step into the role Livingston has played for the past several seasons. That also includes being a good defender. He had a good summer league, now it’s time for that to translate to the regular season.
Best New Addition: Alec Burks
It wasn’t too long ago that Burks was seemingly a rising star in the NBA with the Utah Jazz. A few injuries later, however, and now he’s simply trying to show he can still be an effective NBA player. The Warriors bench is the biggest question mark heading into the season and Burks has a chance to solidify the second unit.
Coming to the Warriors was a great situation for him. He’s going to get the minutes to contribute right away and prove himself while also being on a winning team. He did average 11.6 points per game while shooting 37.8 percent from three last season in 34 games with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He’s always been a decent three-point shooter, and that’s what the Warriors are going to need from him, instant offense off the bench. He’s the best scorer in the second unit as of this moment.
– David Yapkowitz
WHO WE LIKE
1. Kevon Looney
Looney had a case for being listed as the team’s unheralded player. Last season, he was suffering from injuries too, but he toughed it out and gave the Warriors all he had in the Finals despite clearly being in pain. He’s been a part-time starter, and there isn’t any compelling reason why he shouldn’t be in the starting lineup. He’s a good rim protector and interior defender, and he can switch out on the perimeter like Green can. He’s an improving offensive player and is solid in the pick and roll. He should be able to have a career-year and really establish himself as a true difference-maker.
2. Willie Cauley-Stein
Cauley-Stein is somewhat of an enigma. In his four years with the Sacramento Kings, he’s shown flashes of potential followed by inconsistency. He was a good defensive player in college, but that hasn’t always translated to the NBA for him. He is a mobile big though who has a decent offensive touch, and that’s what the Warriors will need from him. He can run the floor well in transition and finish plays as well as being the roller in the pick and roll. This is perhaps his last chance to prove he’s a consistent NBA player.
3. Omari Spellman
Spellman wasn’t exactly the model of consistency during his rookie season, and the Atlanta Hawks gave up on him after just one year in the NBA. On a Warriors team whose bench is full of question marks, he’s got the opportunity to show Atlanta that they gave up on him too early. He brings a different skill set to the team than the other bigs on the roster. He has the ability to stretch the floor and shoot from distance. He’s primarily a power forward, but he can shift over to center in small-ball lineups.
4. Alen Smailagic
Smailagic made a little bit of history this past season when he opted to play in the G League in anticipation of the NBA Draft. He was then drafted this past summer by the New Orleans Pelicans before they traded his rights to the Warriors. Watching him in person with Santa Cruz last season, he’s got all the tools to be a successful big man in today’s game. He is very athletic and can finish well in the paint, but he also stretches the floor and can shoot from three. He’s not bad defensively either. The Warriors won’t need contributions from him immediately and they can afford to be patient with him as he develops.
The Warriors are going to have to rely on the leadership of their key guys more than ever this season. Thankfully for them, they’ve got some of the best leaders in the league. Sure Iguodala and Livingston were highly respected players in the locker room, and they will certainly be missed, but they still have Curry, Thompson, and Green. With the core three still intact, there shouldn’t be any locker room issues or whatnot creeping up this season, those players will see to it. Along with Kerr, the trio will keep this team in line. While they are not the Warriors of seasons past, their key vets will ensure that this team doesn’t suffer much of a drop-off.
Although the Warriors have been top-heavy, one of their strengths during their title years has been the depth of their bench. Last season, their second unit was already starting to show some cracks, and now the armor has completely fallen off. If Kerr decides to start Cauley-Stein and bring Looney off the bench, then they’ll have some dependable play with the second unit. But everyone else remains a question mark. Can Evans adapt to point guard and take a big leap despite not playing much as a rookie? Can Spellman keep his weight down and be a consistent outside threat? Can Burks regain his prior form and be a legit wing scorer? What are they going to get from Glenn Robinson III? This is going to be an issue for the Warriors and whatever playoff success they hope to have, depends on it.
THE BURNING QUESTION
How far will the Warriors drop?
Golden State clearly isn’t going to be running roughshod through the NBA like they have in the past. Other teams in the West are feeling great about their chances of making it to the NBA Finals. But how much of a drop-off will the Warriors actually have? Of course, they’re going to miss the offensive dynamic that Durant brought to the team, but his departure might allow Curry to get back to his former level of scoring. Thompson’s presence will be missed while he recovers, but his absence is why Russell is now on the roster. There is enough on this team to keep them afloat until Thompson gets back. And once playoffs begin, anything can happen. The Warriors will be a team nobody wants to see in the postseason. They’re still good enough for a top 4-5 finish in the West. The rumors of their demise have been greatly exaggerated.
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.”