The Los Angeles Clippers go into the 2018-2019 season with optimism. The team dealt with injuries throughout last season, often resorting to players called up from the team’s G-League affiliate. Despite the constant roster turnover, the team still played competitive basketball and only had their playoff hopes dashed in the final days of the season. Now the team hopes that bringing back a fully healthy roster plus a few new additions could produce a return to the postseason.
To make it back to the playoffs, the Clippers will have to adjust to the loss of long-tenured center DeAndre Jordan, who finally completed his departure to Dallas this offseason. Also standing in the team’s way is the increasingly competitive Western Conference. Numerous teams have objectively improved this offseason and will also be vying for a postseason berth. Count their locker room rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers, among the teams that could squeeze the Clippers out of a lower end playoff berth.
FIVE GUYS THINK…
And just like that, it was over. Just one summer after Chris Paul began the teardown of the once Lob City Clippers, DeAndre Jordan put the final nail in that coffin when he agreed to (finally) sign with the Dallas Mavericks. Coming on the heels of Blake Griffin’s trade to Detroit before February’s deadline, arguably the greatest era in Clippers history has come to an end. A full rebuild, if there’s even interest in such a thing, would likely have to wait a year – high-priced veterans like Tobias Harris, Marcin Gortat and Avery Bradley will be on the books until then, with Danilo Gallinari on for another year after that as well. This doesn’t seem to be a strong enough squad on paper to do much more than threaten for the bottom West playoff seeds, and even that might be asking a lot. There might come a time next offseason where the front office has to choose between a full rebuild around names like Jerome Robinson and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, both acquired in the 2018 draft, and something of a hybrid plan for contention minus a true star on the roster.
3rd Place – Pacific Division
– Ben Dowsett
The Los Angeles Clippers’ upcoming season will be an interesting experiment in assessing the value of star players. The Clippers have quality players at every position and exceptional depth on their bench, but no star players. The NBA is a star-driven league, so it may be the case that the Clippers will be facing an uphill battle on most nights. However, the Clippers are well-positioned to pivot midseason and prioritize the future rather than chasing the playoffs this season should they lose pace in the Western Conference. Los Angeles has several players on favorable contracts who could be desirable trade targets for contending teams looking for a little help. Give the front office credit for making bold moves that positioned the team to have the flexibility to compete now and be free agent players next offseason, at which time they hope to land a superstar like Kawhi Leonard.
3rd Place – Pacific Division
– Jesse Blancarte
During the Lob City days, the Clippers had plenty of star power but were held down by their lack of depth. Now that they have moved on entirely, they have done a complete 180. A roster once devoid of depth is now swimming in it, while the star power in Clipperland went from magnificent to non-existent – all due respect to Tobias Harris. The Clippers probably won’t come close to attaining the same success they did years ago. Yet, it’s hard not to like the versatility they added. What may help the Clippers is that now that Lob City is done, there’s not as much pressure on them. Better yet, for the first time in years, the Clippers are likable again.
3rd Place – Pacific Division
– Matt John
For the first time in a long time, Lob City is no more. With the departure of DeAndre Jordan to Dallas, there is nobody left from that era of Clippers basketball. It’s full speed ahead and a brand new challenge for Doc Rivers, whose roster now boasts a large collection of youth to go with a few veterans to guide them throughout the season. Patrick Beverley is eager to get back from injury and has already said his piece on who the best team in town is. Along with Lou Williams and Avery Bradley, he’ll be mentoring rookie guards Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson. It’s also a year for Tobias Harris to ascend to the elite level. Unfortunately, the Western Conference will be too difficult to break into playoff contention.
3rd Place – Pacific Division
– Spencer Davies
Ehh. The Clippers are such a hard team to buy into as anything more than a first-round playoff contender. Outside of Tobias Harris, who do the Clippers have in terms of star-level players? DeAndre Jordan’s exit will impact them defensively. Their draft was decent but lacked an impact player. There just isn’t anything that leads you to believe that the Clippers are gearing up for a serious run. They should be good enough to win 40-45 games, but what’s that mean in the West? The Clippers look more destined for the lottery than a serious post-season run. We’ll see how it ultimately plays out, but there just isn’t much to get excited about.
3rd Place – Pacific Division
– Steve Kyler
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Tobias Harris
Should the Clippers make the playoffs, they will do so in large part based on their collective offensive versatility. Forward Tobias Harris is in position to lead the way on that end of the court. The Clippers acquired Harris from Detroit midway through last season in a trade that saw Blake Griffin depart from Los Angeles. Having already lost Chris Paul prior to last season, Griffin’s departure left the Clippers suddenly without star power. Lou Williams and Harris stepped up to fill the void. Harris essentially replaced Griffin and showed the ability to score down low when necessary, on the move and from the outside as an acceptable three-point shooter.
The Clippers are now the beneficiaries of the consistent year to year progression of Harris’s game. Harris doesn’t draw headlines the way Griffin did, but is an effective substitute who’s both younger and a more cost-effective lead option for the Clippers. Look for Harris to further settle into his lead role on the team and continue to build his game in his first full season with the team.
Top Defensive Player: Luc Mbah a Moute
Clippers fans are quite familiar with the nuances of Mbah a Moute’s game. Mbah a Moute played for the Clippers for two seasons before leaving last offseason to join Chris Paul in Houston. With Houston, Mbah a Moute showed the same defensive versatility and intelligence that made him a valuable contributor until he suffered a shoulder injury. The injury left Mbah a Moute unavailable at the start of the playoffs and unable to make the same contributions in a close playoff series against the Golden State Warriors.
Having just turned 32, Mbah a Moute returns to a deep Clippers squad that has a lot of talent on the offensive end and a few difference makers on the defensive end available to balance the team. Mbah a Moute has the size (6-foot-8), length, mobility and strength to cover on the perimeter and handle bigger players in the post when necessary. So long as injuries and age don’t significantly slow him down, Mbah a Moute is the Clippers’ top defensive option. Guards Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley are the other defensive specialists the Clippers will lean on this season.
Top Playmaker: Lou Williams
In the past, Lou Williams has generally played a more focused role — lead the second unit as a primary scoring option and secondary playmaker. As mentioned, last year’s Clippers squad was not exactly like most teams. The team spent the whole season overcoming injuries to other key players. With players missing left and right, Williams stepped up with one of his finest seasons. In 79 games (only 19 in the starting lineup), Williams averaged 22.6 points, 5.3 assists in 32.8 minutes per game, all career highs. In addition to his career-high assist numbers, Williams also shot and made career-high numbers from three-point range, making him especially potent on offense.
Williams took on a bigger role for the Clippers last season than he has for other teams in the past. He thrived despite often being the focal point of opposing teams’ defenses and, in doing so, earned himself his second NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award. While the team has a glut of capable guards, Williams is coming off a career season and will again serve as a key playmaker.
Top Clutch Player: Lou Williams
This title goes to Williams, who is one of the NBA’s best natural scorers. In the clutch, Williams can rely on his ability to break down his defender one-on-one, score from mid-range or effortlessly drop a floater near the basket. The attention Williams draws from opposing defenses can also be used to the team’s advantage with correct play calling. The Clippers have a bevy of options at guard, but none can put opposing teams on their heels like Williams. Also a quick shout out to Harris, whose shooting percentages are quite strong as defined by NBA.com’s clutch numbers, although Harris was involved in far fewer clutch games/minutes as Williams last season.
The Unheralded Player: Montrezl Harrell
This Clippers squad has a few players that have not received a lot of attention for their efforts and impact. With the Clippers having a limited number of national broadcasts this season, that may not change any time soon. Regardless, count Montrezl Harrell as a player that quickly made his impact felt last season when the team needed it the most. At 6-foot-8, 240 pounds, Harrell is quick and surprisingly light on his feet. Harrell measures up as a versatile power forward/center who can make a significant impact on any given night with his intensity, hustle and physicality.
Although he only started three games last season, Harrell was a key impact player for the Clippers despite his lack of shot blocking. In stretches where the team would go stale, Harrell’s intensity, offensive rebounding and knack for finding the ball not only helped to keep the team afloat but often made him the best player on the floor. This season the Clippers will likely start center Marcin Gortat (acquired in an offseason trade for Austin Rivers) with Harrell coming off the bench. However, keep an eye on his minutes as the team will likely rely on Harrell just as much, if not more than, Gortat at center. With the addition of Mike Scott and the return of Danilo Gallinari, Harrell is more likely to play the majority of his minutes at center.
Best New Addition: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
In the 2018 NBA Summer League, fans got their first glimpse of the next crop of the league’s top rookies. Among this year’s lottery picks, Wendell Carter, Jr. and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stood out with their play, which raised the question of whether they each should have been picked sooner. Gilgeous-Alexander had flashes of brilliance in Summer League, using hesitation dribbles and off-speed moves to keep defenders off balance while allowing him to get to the basket seemingly at will. Around the basket, he showed a deft touch and the ability to set up teammates through dump off passes or kick outs to shooters on the perimeter.
Gilgeous-Alexander projects to be a starting-quality lead guard with some star potential. While not the fastest or most explosive athlete, with his timing and length Gilgeous-Alexander could also grow into a strong defensive presence in the backcourt. The Clippers hope that both he and fellow rookie guard Jerome Robinson grow into the backcourt of the future.
– James Blancarte
WHO WE LIKE
1. Tyrone Wallace
Although these are the quiet days of the offseason, the Clippers did make a surprise move recently by matching an offer sheet on restricted free agent Tyrone Wallace. This was a surprise mostly due to the glut of guards the team already has going into next season. With the multitude of injuries that left the team bereft of talent, Wallace provided the Clippers with consistent production. Coming from the Clippers’ G-League affiliate team, Wallace used his length and creativity to score ball despite not having a particularly reliable jump shot. Wallace proved capable of playing heavy minutes later in the season while dealing with the restrictive rules surrounding travel and practice time that G-League call-ups have to deal with. With a new contract to stay in LA, Wallace will have to continue to develop his game and hope for another opportunity through trade or injuries to make an impact this upcoming season.
2. The defensive duo of Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley
Patrick Beverley came to the Clippers last season to help ameliorate the loss of Paul and to lead the way with his defensive intensity and leadership. Unfortunately, Beverley’s season quickly came to a close due to injuries. Likewise, Avery Bradley’s tenure with the Clippers hardly registered a blip as he was quickly shut down due to injury concerns. Now both players are apparently healthy. The duo may serve as the starting backcourt for the Clippers and could help to buoy a team that lacks a defensive anchor in the front court.
3. Boban Marjanovic
Hidden in the large haul the Clippers received for Blake Griffin is center Boban Marjanovic. Marjanovic has been and likely will continue to serve as a situational player capable of scoring in bursts. Unfortunately, when he hits the court, the risk is his slow speed and lack of mobility make him a huge target for opposing offenses. This risk-reward balance keeps Marjanovic from hitting the court on some nights. Regardless, Marjanovic continues to be a fan favorite based on his infectious personality and entertaining friendship with Harris. With Jordan gone, there are still opportunities for Marjanovic to make it on the court, especially if the Clippers are hunting for a few easy buckets against teams who don’t play a traditional center.
4. Jerry West and the Clippers’ front office
With the 2017-2018 season looming, the Clippers were at a crossroads. The team risked a huge backslide if Paul or Griffin, or worse both, would have left and signed elsewhere in free agency. As it works out, the team managed to turn Paul into numerous players and assets and did the same with Griffin a few months later. Instead of being locked far over the cap with a core that had peaked years earlier, the Clippers’ front office orchestrated a rebuild on the fly. The Clippers now have a potential backcourt of the future, numerous trade assets and the ability to sign one or two high profile free agents next offseason.
– James Blancarte
Depth, Versatility and Roster Flexibility
Should the injury bug strike again, the Clippers have the depth and versatility to not miss a beat. The Clippers also players on favorable contracts that contending teams may be interested at the trade deadline. The Clippers are well-positioned to compete now and make opportunistic trades mid-season should it become apparent that they are not able to maintain pace in the playoff race.
– James Blancarte
Star power and Defense.
The trades of Griffin and the offseason loss of Jordan leave the Clippers lacking in star power and national recognition. However, even without star power, the team does have the depth and offensive weapons to stay competitive. But the team’s defense may also be an Achilles heel. As mentioned, the team does have notable individual defenders but lacks a reliable shot blocking presence around the rim.
– James Blancarte
The Burning Question
Can the Clippers make the playoffs with this year’s roster or will they look to the future?
As mentioned, the team has talent across the roster to compete for the playoffs after coming close last season. However, injuries could slow down a team that can ill afford to fall behind the intense competition. In addition, the Clippers start their season with an extremely tough first few weeks, which could derail the season early on. If this is too much to overcome, the team might start looking to the future. Despite assurances from the front office that the team will compete at a high level, not making the playoffs will allow the Clippers to keep their top-14 protected first round pick next season. Plus, the team could find it opportune to trade away one of the team’s other guards to make way for the team’s rookie guards.
– James 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.”