The Los Angeles Clippers exceeded expectations last season and pushed the Golden State Warriors to a Game 6 in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The Clippers had high hopes entering the 2019 offseason, aiming to land two top-tier stars, with Kawhi Leonard as the top priority. While it seemed as though the Clippers had been edged out in the race for Leonard by the Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Lakers, it was the Clippers who secured Leonard’s services by trading a valuable haul of players and assets in exchange for star forward Paul George. The Clippers now enter the 2019-20 NBA season as one of a handful of top-tier title contenders. Oh how times have changed.
Let’s take at a look at the Los Angeles Clippers in this 2019-20 NBA Season Preview.
FIVE GUYS THINK…
The Clippers are the clear favorites out west. They have three top-five wing defenders. Let that sink in – three of the league’s five best wing defenders are on the Clippers. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the defensive abilities of Moe Harkless, Montrezl Harrell, Mfiondu Kabengele and others. Further, they have incredible offensive versatility – most notably from Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, but there’s also Lou Williams for opponents to worry about. It’s hard to imagine the Clippers finishing with less than 55 wins, and their ceiling is obviously far higher – especially considering Doc Rivers is in charge of setting the tone and motivating the club to perform.
1st Place – Pacific Division
To say the Clippers had a winning offseason would be a major understatement. They had perhaps the best summer out of any team in the league. Not only did they land arguably the marquee free agent in Kawhi Leonard, but they managed to pull off a trade for Paul George, whom nobody assumed was even on the market. And to top it off, they didn’t really have to give up much of the already established core. Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell are all still there. They went from being a fun team to watch who gave the Golden State Warriors all they could handle in the first round, to being a championship contender. The only real question mark is the center position, but they have a promising young big man in Ivica Zubac. This team is primed for a championship run, something that seems unreal when talking about the Clippers. Steve Ballmer and the front office have put their money where their mouths are and have proven they’re serious about bringing a title to the Clippers franchise. They should be considered the preseason favorite to come out of the West.
1st Place – Pacific Division.
– David Yapkowitz
Who isn’t excited for this new, exciting rivalry in Hollywood? Already with momentum from a highly successful year and first-round series in the postseason, the Clippers landed the two big fish of the 2019 free agent class in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. We don’t need to tell you what those two can do individually, but together in the prime of their careers? That is going to be a tandem for the ages. Perhaps even more impressive is that when that duo is sitting, another one-two punch awaits in Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. LA’s second unit did the brunt of its damage last year. With shooting and defense – Patrick Beverley’s tenacity being the tone-setter – from top to bottom on this roster, there’s no reason to see that slowing down. Doc Rivers hasn’t had talent like this since his days in Boston, which is ironically where he won his last NBA Championship. Could history repeat itself over a decade later?
1st Place – Pacific Division
– Spencer Davies
The Los Angeles Clippers are the winners of the 2019 offseason. Many will argue that the team gave up too many talented players and draft assets in the Paul George trade, but failing to do so could have been disastrous. If the Clippers failed to land George, Leonard could have moved on and re-signed with the Toronto Raptors or, even worse, the Los Angeles Lakers. With the options of either making the deal and landing Leonard and George, or failing to make the deal and allowing Leonard to create a Big-Three with LeBron James and Anthony Davis across the hall with the Lakers, the Clippers seemingly had to go all in. In doing so, the Clippers now have a deep roster led by two star forwards and a championship window of at least two seasons. Injuries could derail the Clippers’ upcoming season, but the team will likely be extremely careful in managing its star players’ respective health situations. Buckle up for what should be the most exciting season in Clippers’ franchise history.
1st Place – Pacific Division
– Jesse Blancarte
The Clippers may have won the off-season with the landing of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George while being able to keep most of the core that got to the playoffs last year. The problem with buying the Clippers hype is that George had both shoulders operated on and Leonard still does not seem like his leg is right. If both are hobbled with injuries then all of this was for nothing in a Western Conference loaded with would-be contenders. If both players get back to looking like the MVP vote-getters they were last year, then the Clippers could be scary good because of their depth and star power.
1st Place – Pacific Division
– Steve Kyler
FROM THE CAP GUY
The Clippers invested heavily over the summer, acquiring two stars in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George while giving additional deals to Ivica Zubac, Patrick Beverley and Rodney McGruder. The team will probably hover right below the NBA’s 132.6 million luxury tax line, and while they have no other spending tools to add free agents above minimum salaries, Los Angeles could look to make midseason trades to bolster the roster as needed.
Given that Maurice Harkless is making just over $11 million in the final year of his contract, he could become important salary ballast if the team can find a deal. Montrezl Harrell will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. If he plays as well as he did last year, he’ll be the team’s top priority in July.
Before November, the Clippers need to pick up team options on Landry Shamet and Jerome Robinson.
– Eric Pincus
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Paul George
It’s tough to not go with Kawhi Leonard here, especially considering he was a one-man offensive force throughout the 2018-19 postseason. But Paul George was a legitimate MVP candidate throughout most of last season and was particularly effective on offense. George posted 28 points and 4.1 assists per game while shooting 43.8 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from three-point range.
George is arguably a more polished playmaker and can effectively lead an offense as a point forward for long stretches. Both players can do it all on offense, but George is a bit more fluid with the ball in his hands, has better vision as a playmaker and his efficient high-volume shooting from distance sets him apart from Leonard. Leonard is the better overall player, but George is arguably a bit more advanced overall offensively.
Top Defensive Player: Kawhi Leonard
Leonard and George are top-tier perimeter defenders but Leonard, when healthy and motivated, is arguably the best defensive wing-defender in the league. Leonard can lock down an opposing star guard or forward, is an intelligent team-defender, has the strength to guard bigger players in the post and, at times, can be an effective weak side rim defender. Leonard isn’t quite the defender he was earlier in his career due to the leg injury that caused him to miss nearly the entire 2017-18 season and 22 games last season (load management).
Leonard insists he is healthier than he has been in some time and will not need aggressive load management this upcoming season. If Leonard is closer to full strength than he has been in the last few seasons, we could see an uptick in his defensive impact this upcoming season. This is especially true considering that George can pick up some of Leonard’s responsibilities on offense and the Clippers have a deep team that can fill in for Leonard and keep his minutes in check.
Top Playmaker: Lou Williams
A strong case can be made that this designation should go to Paul George but he gets plenty of praise throughout this preview and Williams has a strong case to make as well, so we are going with Williams on this one. Many may think that Williams is just a high-end chucker coming off the bench for the Clippers, but that sells Williams short.
First, Williams averaged more assists per game (5.4) last season than George (4.1) and Leonard (3.3) in less minutes per game (26.6) and dished out 7.3 assists per 36 minutes last season. Second, Williams forms a devastating pick-and-roll game with Montrezl Harrell and is able to either score out of this set, drop easy dimes to Harrell or find open shooters consistently. Third, Williams is such an explosive offensive player and reliable shooter that the attention he draws in isolation often creates breathing room for teammates. With all of this in mind, we are confident in giving Williams the nod for top playmaker.
Top Clutch Player: Kawhi Leonard
Paul George has proven himself to be a clutch player throughout his career, but Leonard set himself apart during the 2018-19 postseason.
Despite being labeled a system player early in his career, Leonard has established himself as an elite offensive force and is now able to get almost any shot he wants in isolation. Also, in case there’s any doubt, let’s recall Leonard’s series-winning jumper over Joel Embiid in Game 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers. If Leonard had not hit that extremely difficult shot, the Raptors could have been eliminated in the second round and been prevented from winning its first NBA championship.
The Unheralded Player: Patrick Beverley
On most nights, Patrick Beverley will probably be matched up against a point guard that is widely considered to be a better overall player. But here’s the thing – on this particular Clippers team, Beverley is arguably the perfect fit at starting point guard. Beverley is one of the most aggressive and effective defensive point guards in the league, is able to play off the ball and has developed into a very reliable shooter.
With George and Leonard needing the ball in their hands often, Beverley will have plenty of opportunities to work off the ball and spread the floor with his shooting. Additionally, Beverley has set the tone on defense for the Clippers in the past and is now teamed up with two of the best overall wing defenders in the league. The Clippers have the chance to be an elite defensive team this upcoming season, and Beverley will be an integral part of that dynamic, though he’s unlikely to get the kind of credit George and Leonard will.
Best New Addition: Kawhi Leonard
Leonard just led the Toronto Raptors to its first NBA Championship, earned the Finals MVP award and was the most coveted free agent this offseason. In any other offseason, George would have likely been the best new addition for the Clippers or likely any other team. But in this case, George was the lure to get Leonard on board. Leonard is arguably the best overall player in the NBA, and even his harshest critics wouldn’t list him outside of the top four.
– Jesse Blancarte
WHO WE LIKE
1. Doc Rivers and the Front Office
There is plenty of praise for George and Leonard throughout this preview, so we will use this section to highlight some of the other Clippers we like. Let’s start with head coach Doc Rivers and the team’s collective front office. Rivers had his team playing at a high level last season and made some noise in the first round despite not having a single star player. Additionally, in a column by Arash Markazi of the Los Angeles Times, Rivers stated that during the team’s meeting with Leonard, Kawhi told Rivers, “I want to play for you.”
Rivers credits the entire front office and Lawrence Frank in particular for putting in the work throughout the last year to be in a strong position to convince Leonard to sign with the Clippers. The Clippers’ front office has made smart, disciplined moves throughout the last few years to have had the trade assets to land George and the roster to convince Leonard he could win at the highest levels in LA.
2. Montrezl Harrell
Montrezl Harrell was a top candidate for last season’s Sixth Man of the Year Award, but was edged out by teammate and pick-and-roll partner Lou Williams. Last season, Harrell and Williams became the highest-scoring bench duo in NBA history. Harrell posted 16.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.3 blocks in just 26.3 minutes per game. The big man is well-equipped to be a high-energy force off the bench, especially when he is in a rhythm with Williams.
Harrell has developed into a dynamic pick-and-roll partner, aggressive finisher at the rim and underrated post player. Harrell is also aggressive on defense, but his lack of size does often put him at a disadvantage against some of the bigger post players in the league, like Joel Embiid. Harrell isn’t necessarily a liability on defense, but he isn’t a defensive anchor or elite rim protector either. Nevertheless, Harrell is a big-time contributor for the Clippers and will at times be the most impactful player on the court for LA this upcoming season, even with George and Leonard also on the court.
3. Landry Shamet
Remember how we mentioned that the Clippers’ front office has been making smart, disciplined trades over the last few seasons? One such example includes the Clippers trading Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanović and Mike Scott to the Philadelphia 76ers last season in exchange for Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala and Landry Shamet – as well as Philadelphia’s own protected 2020 first-round pick, the Miami HEAT’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick and the Detroit Pistons’ 2021 and 2023 second-round picks. The Clippers used some of these acquired assets in subsequent deals, such as the trade for Paul George. LA also flipped Muscala for starting center Ivica Zubac.
Shamet turned out to be a nice prize in this deal as well. Shamet quickly earned the starting shooting guard position and established himself as a knock down shooter from distance (45 percent on six three-point attempts per game). Shamet is a bit undersized to guard some of the more physical shooting guards in the league, but is an overall effective defensive guard and was unexpectedly effective guarding Stephen Curry in the first round of the 2018-19 playoffs.
At just 22 years old, Shamet is well-equipped to fill the role that JJ Redick played so well for several seasons with the Clippers. Shamet is skilled at coming off of screens and getting three-pointers off quickly. He is also skilled as a secondary playmaker off the dribble. With George and Leonard now in the starting lineup with him, Shamet should be able to get cleaner looks more consistently and may have more room to operate off the dribble when teams overload their defensive attention on George and Leonard.
4. JaMychal Green
JaMychal Green has a strong case for the unheralded player designation as well, but we gave that to Patrick Beverley, so we will highlight Green here. Green is a versatile forward who can play both as a power forward and as a small-ball center who can stretch the floor. This is a particularly important role for the Clippers this upcoming season since it’s unclear whether Zubac can matchup against lethal three-point shooting teams like the Houston Rockets.
Doc Rivers went away from Zubac in the 2018-19 playoffs against the Golden State Warriors and turned to Green as an alternative option. Green filled in admirably, knocking down big shots against the Warriors and effectively guarding in space and at the rim as the team’s small-ball center. Additionally, Green will have to fill in and play more minutes throughout the season whenever George and Leonard are resting or injured. Don’t be surprised if Green ends up playing a big role for the Clippers this upcoming season, especially in the postseason.
– Jesse Blancarte
Defense and depth. With Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Patrick Beverley all in the starting lineup, the Clippers have the talent to be an elite defensive team. Ivica Zubac will need to improve as a defensive anchor and rim protector at the center position, but there is reason to believe he has the tools to make that leap this upcoming season. Moreover, the Clippers have few, if any, players in the rotation who can be considered defensive liabilities outside of Lou Williams. When the game matters most, opposing teams are going to find it difficult to get a clutch bucket against this team.
Additionally, the Clippers have exceptional depth. Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Landry Shamet, Rodney McGruder, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Montrezl Harrell, Mo Harkless, Patrick Patterson, Iviza Zubac and JaMychal Green are all established players who can play at least 14 minutes of quality ball each night. The Clippers also have young, talented players who could develop into reliable rotation players as early as this season, including Jerome Robinson, Terance Mann and Mfiondu Kabengele.
– Jesse Blancarte
Paul George may miss the beginning of the upcoming season after undergoing surgery on both of his shoulders earlier this year. Kawhi Leonard missed most of the 2017-18 season and 22 regular-season games last season, in part, because of the injury issues related to his right quad. Patrick Beverley missed most of the 2017-18 season due to a knee injury that required microfracture surgery (though Beverley notably played in 78 regular-season games last season). Landry Shamet has had foot issues in the past, which required surgery as well.
Any significant injuries to either George or Leonard will knock the Clippers down from a title favorite to legitimate title contenders, though the same can essentially be said for any team if one of their respective star players goes down with an injury. Fortunately for the Clippers, the team has depth at every position and can use that depth to manage the minutes for the team’s top players.
– Jesse Blancarte
THE BURNING QUESTION
Can the Clippers effectively integrate Leonard and George into the team’s existing structure and win it all this season?
The Clippers pushed their chips into the middle of the table and went all in to win championships as early as this upcoming season. LA is banking on Leonard and George turning into one of, if not the most devastating star duo in the league. Leonard and George’s respective skill sets overlap in significant ways, but both stars have demonstrated an ability to play with other star players in the past. Both players also face injury issues that will be closely monitored by the Clippers’ medical and training staff throughout the upcoming season.
Having said all of that, the Clippers have the coaching, talent, depth, experience and star power to win the title this upcoming season. Other teams will push the Clippers and will stand in their way, but there is plenty of reason to believe the Clippers are the favorites to win it all this upcoming season.
– Jesse Blancarte
Georgetown Prospect Omer Yurtseven is Ready for Center Stage
Omer Yurtseven spoke with Drew Maresca about playing for coach Patrick Ewing, training for the NBA during a pandemic and why he feels he’s the best center in the 2020 draft class.
Omer Yurtseven, the 7-foot tall, Georgetown center, posted an impressive junior season in 2019-20; he averaged 15.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. With legitimate NBA size and skills, it’s no mystery why he’s confident. “I don’t think anyone has my combination of tools and versatility,” Yurtseven recently told Basketball insiders. But he’s also a student of the game –well aware of the game’s history and where it’s headed.
“I wouldn’t put anyone ahead of me. I haven’t seen anyone with the tools that I have. I can shoot the ball, the three-ball, and that’s where the big man is headed,” Yurtseven said.
But he’s not satisfied with what he’s accomplished thus far. He wants more. And he understands that he’ll have to continue working to ensure his spot in the league.
“Some guys might be more athletic [than me], but there are a lot of athletic bigs in the league who don’t stick,” Yurtseven continued. “The skillset is just as important, if not more. So is the [willingness to put in] the work. I think I’m better or as good as any other players, and my rookie year, that’s my goal, to prove that.”
Yurtseven transferred to Georgetown from N.C. State in 2018 after a successful Sophomore season in which he shot over 50 percent on three-point attempts. He sat out the 2018-19 season voluntarily to play for Georgetown and coach Patrick Ewing. The opportunity to work with the Hall of Famer was too good to pass up.
“That’s what I was looking for coming in [working with Ewing]. I needed someone to see the game from my perspective,” Yurtseven said. “I was looking for that feedback and I demanded to be coached. I wanted to learn from him. The thing he stayed on me the most about was the pace of the game and how quick my moves would have to be at the next level.
“The turnaround jumper was one of his major weapons,” Yurtseven continued. “He was ahead of his time, but he wanted to see me do the same thing and give 100 percent effort every time.”
Yurtseven jumper is a major weapon in his arsenal, so a pairing with Ewing was an obvious fit. His numbers remained strong during his junior year season with Georgetown, but with one glaring drop off – three-point percentage. Ewing demanded that Yurtseven operate from the low post, a role that the prospect didn’t love, but accepted. Could a new role be to blame for a down shooting year? Yurtseven would never blame anyone other than himself, especially not Ewing. But it’s clear that he felt like he could have done even more if given the opportunity.
“The biggest thing is, I played how I played because that was the role demanded of me. All I had to do was be the inside presence, the defense collapser, and we had to stick to the strategy that coach thought was best for the team.
“I would love to have caught the ball at the top a little more,” Yurtseven continued. “But I was happy to be the post guy. I knew I had to get into my moves quick, so that’s what I did. I sacrificed what I think is my best skills for the team, and I was fine with it.”
It’s evident that Yurtseven is a team-first guy but his three-point shooting took a significant hit. As mentioned above, Yurtseven shot 50 percent on 1.3 three-point attempts as a sophomore in 2017-18, but only 21.4 percent on only half an attempt from long range per game in 2019-20. However, it’s not in his nature to look back – only ahead.
“That’s been my main focus,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “In April, I was shooting 30 or 40 percent two steps behind the college three. That percentage has added up 5 or 10 percent each month. Doing it isn’t easy, but it pays off and that’s why we do it. Now I’m at 75 or 80 percent (in practice sessions) and I’m really confident in my ability.
“And that’s the most important skill set for big men right now,” Yurtseven said. “You’ve got to be a perimeter shooter, as well as a perimeter defender, because big men are evolving away from the rim.”
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Yurtseven – and all of the 2020 class – received longer than normal between the end of the 2019-20 NCAA season and the 2020 NBA Draft. And while mock drafts have slowly whittled down the number of prospects, Yurtseven is working tirelessly to improve his stock in any way possible. impressive game.
“No one knew this offseason would be so long. It’s been 6, 8 months already,” Yurtseven continued. “But the team around me has been a blessing – coordinating workouts and making sure I’m taking steps to improve, from nutrition to training lateral quickness to shooting.
“It’s speed and agility, studying the game and having the knowledge about how to position yourself,” Yurtseven continued. “It’s timing and positioning and footwork. It’s all pieces of the puzzle. But the league is another level than college. That’s why I’ve been preparing, increasing lateral quickness, strengthening my glutes, making sure my quads and hips are firing well and that my lateral push-off is explosive as I want.”
“And seeing it translate on the court in two-on-twos and three-on-threes. Switching on guards and providing I can do it to myself. It’s been really fun and fulfilling.”
Yurtseven could have opted to play professionally in Europe – he had numerous professional offers as an 18-year-old prior to coming to joining N.C. State. But Yurtseven is driven by more than money and fame. He is family-oriented and understands the long game. His parents wanted him to receive a college degree before pursuing basketball – a decision that Yurtseven is happy to have made.
“The education was the main reason [I chose to play in the NCAA]. My family’s dream was that I get a college degree.
“When I was 18, [Turkish teams] offered me a huge contract. I’ve never seen so many zeros in my life,” Yurtseven continued.
“Now it’s time to chase my dream. And my team, my circle, it’s our goal to find a franchise that allows me to grow into a player for 10-plus years – and I’ll never stop working at it.”
Where Yurtseven ultimately plays is anyone’s guess – but he’s already spoken with 17 NBA teams.
Whatever franchise selects the center will add a hard-working and versatile big man that looks well-suited for the modern game – or he may not be selected at all. Yurtseven is currently ranked outside the top 50 according to some mocks – but if he gets an opportunity, he knows how he’d like to play.
“My aim is to get a double-double, year one,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “And, of course, guarding 1 through 5 is another big thing that coaches are looking for. Look at the Bucks, they were ranked first in offense (in 2019-20). Most of their points come from spot-ups. Defenses collapse on Giannis and Middleton – and Brook Lopez stays alone in the corner. I think that’ll be where I get my shots, too.”
Only three rookies in the past 10 years have averaged a double-double in their first season in the league – Blake Griffin, Karl-Anthony Towns, Deandre Ayton. That’s an elite club in which Yurtseven is seeking membership. Can he surprise the basketball world? Only time will tell.
There isn’t much data on him against elite big men. But there is one relevant contest worth examining: a Nov. 22 matchup against Duke and Vernon Carey, who is projected to be drafted No. 26 overall by Basketball Insiders.
Carey filled the stat sheet with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but so did Yurtseven (21 points, five rebounds and four blocks). That night, his entire repertoire was on full display – decisive drop steps, smooth turnaround jump shots over both shoulders, baby hooks, midrange jumpers and hard-nosed defense.
“He was the only true big man that I played against,” Yurtseven recalled. “He was quick and Duke did a good job putting the ball in his hands as soon as he stepped in the paint. I had to exert a lot of energy keeping him off his spot, but I adjusted quickly.
“I figured he would be very strong, but he ultimately didn’t feel as strong as I expected. My maturity and strength helped me a lot.”
Yurtseven’s skill and build render him tailor-made for the NBA. But for most, sticking at the professional peak is about more than skill and body. IQ, on and off of the floor, play a major role, too.
“A lot of guys [in this draft class] haven’t played many games,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “Having a college degree and that experience is a huge tool.
“Playing overseas as a pro is another layer of experience that I have compared to these guys. My IQ has improved. Those one-and-done guys are gonna be thrown into the fire, but I’ll be more ready.
“I saw a study,” Yurtseven explained. “Guys that come in 21-and-under stay in the league two or three years on average. Guys that come in and are 21-or-older stay seven or eight years on average. That just shows how much time it takes to mature your game.”
Comparatively, only four players were 22 or older as on draft night in 2019 – Yurtsevein is 22.
At the end of the day, it will be about how he performs on the court, and he’s comfortable with that.
“If I get drafted, I’ll be the first guy coming out of Turkey with a college degree,” Yurtseven said proudly.
“I’m ready for the next step. I appreciate everyone wishing me luck and supporting me from afar. I can’t wait to show my game’s evolution and reap the benefits of all of the work I’ve put in.”
NBA Daily: Tyronn Lue is the Right Coach for the Clippers
Is Lue the right coach for the Los Angeles Clippers? David Yapkowitz thinks so.
When Doc Rivers was first hired by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2013, the expectation was that he would be the one to guide the franchise into respectability. A laughingstock of the NBA for pretty much their entire existence, marred by bad coaching, bad management and bad ownership, Rivers was supposed to help change all of that.
For the most part, he did.
Rivers arrived from the Boston Celtics with the 2008 championship, and he helped the Celtics regain their standing as one of the NBA’s elite teams. The Clippers were a perennial playoff contender under him and were even in the conversation for being a possible championship contender. The Lob City Clippers led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin certainly were talked about as being a title contender, and this season’s group led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were definitely in the mix as well.
Not only did Rivers steady the team on the court though, but he was also a very steadying presence off the court. He guided the franchise through the Donald Sterling controversy and he was a positive voice for the team as they navigated the bubble and the ongoing charge for social reform in the country.
But when things go wrong with a team, the coach is usually the one who ends up taking the fall. While Rivers did bring the Clippers to a level of respectability the franchise has never known, his record was not without blemishes. Most notably was his team’s inability to close out playoff series’ after holding three games to one on advantages two separate occasions.
In 2015, the Clippers had a 3-1 lead over the Houston Rockets only to squander that lead and lose Game 7 on the road. In Game 6, their shots stopped falling and neither Paul nor Griffin could do anything to halt the Rockets onslaught.
This season, in an incredibly similar fashion, the Clippers choked away a 3-1 lead over the Denver Nuggets and ended up getting blown out the second half of Game 7. Just like before, the offense stalled multiple games and neither Leonard nor George could make a difference.
There were also questions about Rivers’ rotations and his seeming inability to adjust to his opponents. In the end, something had to change, and whether it’s right or wrong, the coach usually ends up taking the fall.
Enter Tyronn Lue. Lue, like Rivers, is also a former NBA player and has a great deal of respect around the league. He came up under Rivers, getting his first coaching experience as an assistant in Boston, and then following Rivers to the Clippers.
He ended up joining David Blatt’s staff in Cleveland in 2014, and when Blatt was fired in the middle of the 2015-16 season, Lue was promoted to head coach. In the playoffs that year, Lue guided the Cavaliers to victory in their first 10 playoff games. They reached the Finals where they famously came back from a 3-1 deficit against the 73-9 Golden State Warriors to win the franchise’s first championship.
The Cavaliers reached the Finals each full year of Lue’s tenure as head coach, but he was let go at the start of the 2018-19 season when the team started 0-6 after the departure of LeBron James.
In the 2019 offseason, Lue emerged as the leading candidate for the Los Angeles Lakers head coaching job, before he ultimately rejected the team’s offer. After rejoining Rivers in LA with the Clippers for a year, he once again emerged as a leading candidate for multiple head coaching positions this offseason before agreeing to terms with the Clippers.
Following the Clippers series loss to the Nuggets, many players openly talked about the team’s lack of chemistry and how that may have played a factor in the team’s postseason demise. Adding two-star players in Leonard and George was always going to be a challenge from a chemistry standpoint, and the Clippers might have secured the perfect man to step up to that challenge.
During his time in Cleveland, Lue was praised for his ability to manage a locker room that included James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. In Game 7 against the Warriors, Lue reportedly challenged James at halftime and ended up lighting a fire that propelled the Cavaliers to the championship.
Lue’s ability to deal with star egos isn’t just limited to his coaching tenure. During his playing days, Lue was a trusted teammate with the Los Angeles Lakers during a time when Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant weren’t seeing eye to eye. He also played with Michael Jordan during Jordan’s Washington Wizard days.
Now, he’ll be tasked with breaking through and leading the Clippers to a place where no Clipper team has ever been before. He’ll be expected to finish what Rivers was unable to accomplish and guide the Clippers to an NBA championship.
For one, he’ll have to change the Clippers offensive attack. This past season, the Clippers relied too much on an isolation heavy offense centered around Leonard and George. That style of play failed in the playoffs when after failing to adjust, the Clippers kept taking tough shot after tough shot while the Nuggets continued to run their offense and get good shots.
With the Cavaliers, Lue showed his ability to adjust his offense and work to his player’s strengths. In the 2018 Playoffs, Lue employed a series of off-ball screens involving Love and Kyle Korver with James reading the defense and making the correct read to whoever was in the best position to score.
When playing with James, the offense sometimes tends to stagnate with the other four players standing around and waiting for James to make his move. Lue was able to get the other players to maintain focus and keep them engaged when James had the ball in his hands. Look for him to try and do something similar for when either Leonard or George has the ball in their hands.
He’s already got a player on the roster in Landry Shamet who can play that Korver role as the designated shooter on the floor running through off-ball screens and getting open. Both Leonard and George have become efficient enough playmakers to be able to find open shooters and cutters. That has to be Lue’s first task to tweak the offense to find ways to keep the rest of the team engaged and active when their star players are holding the ball.
The defensive end is going to be something he’ll need to adjust as well. The Clippers have some of the absolute best individual defensive players in the league. Leonard is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, George was a finalist for the award in 2019 and Patrick Beverley is a perennial All-Defensive Team selection.
When the team was locked in defensively this season, there wasn’t a team in the league that could score on them. The problem for them was they seemingly couldn’t stay engaged on the defensive end consistently enough. The other issue was Rivers’ inability to adjust his defense to his opponent. Against the Nuggets, Nikola Jokic had a field day whenever Montrez Harrell was guarding him.
Lue’s primary task will be to get this team to maintain their defensive intensity throughout the season, as well as recognize what matchups are and aren’t working. Both Ivica Zubac and JaMychal Green were more effective frontcourt defenders in the postseason than Harrell was. Look for Lue to play to his team’s strengths, as he always has, and to trot out a heavy dose of man-to-man defense.
Overall, Lue was the best hire available given the candidates. He’s got a strong rapport among star players. He’s made it to the finals multiple times and won a championship as a head coach. And he already has experience working with Leonard and George.
Given the potential free agent status of both Leonard and George in the near future, the Clippers have a relatively small window of championship contention. Lue was in a similar situation in Cleveland when James’ pending free agency in the summer of 2018 was also a factor. That time around, Lue delivered. He’ll be ready for this new challenge.
NBA Daily: The Lakers’ Third Scorer Is By Committee
The Los Angeles Lakers have a whole unit of third scoring options – and that’s why they’re one win from an NBA Championship.
One of the biggest questions surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers once the NBA bubble began was who was going to pick up the mantle of being the third scoring option.
Even before the 2019-20 season began, it was obvious that LeBron James and Anthony Davis would be the primary offensive weapons, but every elite team with championship aspirations needs another player or two they can rely on to contribute on the offensive end consistently.
The obvious choice was Kyle Kuzma. In his third year in the NBA, Kuzma was the lone member of the Lakers’ young core that hadn’t been shipped elsewhere. His name had come up in trade rumors as possibly being included in the package to New Orleans for Davis, but the Lakers were able to hang on to him. He put up 17.4 points per game over his first two seasons and had some questioning whether or not he had All-Star potential.
For the most part this season, he settled into that role for much of this season. With Davis in the fold and coming off the bench, his shot attempts dropped from 15.5 to 11.0, but he still managed to be the team’s third scorer with 12.8 points per game.
But here in the bubble, and especially in the playoffs, the Lakers’ role players have each taken turns in playing the supporting role to James and Davis. Everyone from Kuzma to Alex Caruso, to Dwight Howard, to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, to Markieff Morris and even Rajon Rondo have had games where they’ve given the team that additional scoring boost.
Earlier in the bubble, James himself said they need Kuzma to be the team’s third-best player to win, but Kuzma himself believes that it’s always been by committee.
“We don’t have a third scorer, that’s not how our offense is built. Our offense is really AD and Bron, and everyone else plays team basketball,” Kuzma said on a postgame media call after Game 4 of the Finals. “We’ve had a long season, hopefully by now, you’ve seen how we play. Everyone steps up at different times, that’s what a team does.”
On this particular night, when the Miami HEAT got a pregame boost with the return of Bam Adebayo and wealth of confidence from their Game 3 win, it was Caldwell-Pope who stepped up and assumed the mantle of that third scoring option.
He finished Game 4 with 15 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 percent from three-point range. He also dished out five assists and grabbed three rebounds. Perhaps his most crucial moments of the game came late in the fourth quarter with the Lakers desperately clinging to a slim lead and the Heat not going away.
He hit a big three-pointer in front of the Miami bench with 2:58 to go in the game, and then followed that up with a drive the rim and finish on the very next possession to give the Lakers some breathing room.
Caldwell-Pope has been one of the most consistent Lakers this postseason and he’s been one of their most consistent three-point threats at 38.5 percent on 5.3 attempts. He was actually struggling a bit with his outside shot before this game, but he always stayed ready.
“My teammates lean on me to pick up the energy on the defensive end and also make shots on the offensive end…I stayed within a rhythm, within myself and just played,” Caldwell-Pope said after the game. “You’re not going to knock down every shot you shoot, but just staying with that flow…Try to stay in the rhythm, that’s what I do. I try not to worry about it if I’m not getting shots. I know they are eventually going to come.”
Also giving the Lakers a big offensive boost in Game 4 was Caruso who had a couple of easy baskets at the rim and knocked down a three-pointer. He’s become one the Lakers best off the ball threats as well, making strong cuts to the rim or drifting to the open spot on the three-point line.
He’s had his share of games this postseason when it’s been his turn to step up as the Lakers additional scoring threat. During Game 4 against the Houston Rockets in the second round, Caruso dropped 16 points off the bench to help prevent the Rockets from tying the series up. In the closeout Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets, he had 11 points and finished the game in crunch time.
For him, it’s about staying ready and knowing that the ball is eventually going to come to whoever is open. When that happens, it’s up to the role players to take that pressure off James and Davis.
“Our third star or best player is whoever has the open shot. We know what AD and LeBron are going to bring to the table every night. They’re going to get their attention, they’re going to get their shots,” Caruso said after the game.
“It’s just about being ready to shoot. We have two of the best passers in the game, if not the best, so we know when we are open, we are going to get the ball. We have to be ready to do our job as soon as the ball gets to us.”
And if the Lakers are to close out the series and win the 2020 NBA championship, head coach Frank Vogel knows that it’s going to take a collective effort from the rest of the team, the way they’ve been stepping up all postseason.
“We need everybody to participate and contribute, and we’re a team-first team,” Vogel said after the game. “Obviously we have our two big horses, but everybody’s got to contribute that’s out there.”