The Memphis Grizzlies were decimated by injuries last season. That isn’t being overly dramatic; over the course of the season, the Grizzlies shuffled through an NBA record 28 players. We should acknowledge what an incredible achievement it was for last season’s team to make it to the playoffs despite losing its top players to injury. Of those 28 players, 10 will return this upcoming season and the majority of them are recognizable veterans who can make a real impact.
The problem is that the Western Conference continues to be dominated by the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Los Angeles Clippers. The Grizzlies have a team that is designed to win now, but after years of falling short in the postseason, the core is past their respective prime and is more likely to regress than make an internal leap that will bridge the gap between them and the teams at the top of the conference. The Grizzlies will likely be a tough opponent on any given night, but there is also a ceiling to what they can achieve this season.
Basketball Insiders previews the 2016-17 season for the Memphis Grizzlies.
FIVE GUYS THINK
Memphis opened up their wallet and invested nearly a quarter of a billion dollars this summer in free agency deals to Mile Conley and Chandler Parsons – two guys never selected to an All-Star team in 14 combined professional seasons. But don’t get it twisted: Conley and Parsons are proven veteran producers that won’t back down from a challenge. The Grizzlies have reached the playoffs for six consecutive seasons and this veteran-laden unit is built for another run in 2017.
2nd Place – Southwest Division
– Lang Greene
The Grizzlies certainly spent like they want to contend for a championship, doling out just shy of a quarter of a billion dollars to bring aboard Chandler Parsons and keep Mike Conley in town. This roster really is starting to look its age, though, and could be due for a small step backward rather than a step forward. Still, they’re huge, incredibly experienced and practically unguardable for the ever-increasing number of NBA teams looking to play small ball. These guys are still bruisers, and they’re still one of the toughest defensive teams in the league. David Fizdale should have some fun with this roster in his first year as head coach, as it looks like the Grizzlies, though built unconventionally for today’s NBA, still will be a force in the Western Conference in 2016-2017.
2nd Place – Southwest Division
– Joel Brigham
It’s much easier to rationalize the Grizzlies paying Mike Conley a maximum contract than it is Chandler Parsons. Parsons is a nice player, though, and he will likely help the Grizzlies win a few more games this season. As has been the case since the days of Lionel Hollins, the Grizzlies are a team whose collective strength exceeds the perceived value of their individual pieces. The main question for this bunch will be whether or not they are able to stay healthy. An absence from Marc Gasol or Mike Conley for any long stretch of time could doom them. It seems that the Grizzlies were a legitimate championship contender in the not so distant past, but unfortunately for them, I think the window has closed a bit. They seem to be one of the teams that are stuck in the middle the same way the Atlanta Hawks were with Joe Johnson. In the Southwest Division, the Grizzlies should be able to compete with the likes of the Dallas Mavericks for the second seed, though that’s not saying much since the two teams each finished with 42 wins last season. On paper, I think that the Mavericks have done more to improve themselves than the Grizzlies have, but if the Grizzlies can stay healthy, they’ll battle. Tough call to make but I think I’d sooner bet on Harrison Barnes thriving in Dallas than I would the Grizzlies keeping their aging bodies in good health all season long, so I’ll take the Grizzlies as my third favorite in the division.
3rd Place – Southwest Division
– Moke Hamilton
The grit-and-grind Grizzlies are still here, but are adding a new piece in Chandler Parsons. Parsons is a nice player, though I would not have given him a max contract. Parson had a “minor hybrid” microfracture operation on his knee in May of 2015, which would have made me think more than twice about offering a four-year, $94.8 million contract. Having said that, if Parsons can stay healthy and provide three-point shooting and consistent defensive effort, he should help the Grizzlies bounce back into the mix in the Western Conference. But considering the team’s collective age, their recent struggles with injuries and the fact that Dave Joerger is now in Sacramento lead me to believe they will have an up-and-down season.
4th Place – Southwest Division
– Jesse Blancarte
I wasn’t crazy about the addition of Chandler Parsons. I’m not a big fan of Parsons’ game and I don’t think he’s the kind of player who puts a team over the top and into contention. It’ll be interesting to see what impact David Fizdale has as the team’s new head coach. I was a big fan of what he did with the Miami HEAT, but there’s always an adjustment period when a guy becomes a head coach for the first time. If Memphis can stay healthy, they have a solid group that should be able to win a lot of regular season and be a tough out in the playoffs, but it’s hard to imagine this team being a legitimate contender since they’re a notch below elite squads like the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs.
3rd Place – Southwest Division
– Alex Kennedy
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Marc Gasol
Gasol suffered a broken right foot in February and has been recovering ever since. Fortunately, the 31-year-old will reportedly be cleared to play by the time training camp starts. When healthy, Gasol is one of the most well-rounded centers in the NBA. He has the size and footwork to clear space and get off his slow but accurate jumper. He can back opponents down in the post, spin either direction effectively and can lean back to get off an almost unguardable turnaround jumper. Additionally, Gasol is a very good passer and unselfish player, which means the Grizzlies can run their offense through him. Most centers these days work mostly out of the pick-and-roll, but Gasol is a throwback kind of center who can get his shot off at will and can also find open shots for his teammates.
Top Defensive Player: Mike Conley
There are a lot of good options to choose from here, but we are giving top defensive player to point guard Mike Conley. Don’t be fooled by the fact that Conley has never been selected as an All-Star and doesn’t make flashy plays. Conley is one of the most underrated points guards in the league (though he’s not being paid like that anymore), and is much better as a defender than many assume. Conley is an intelligent defender and works extremely hard to slow down his opponents. Whether fighting over screens, funneling opponents to his weak side defender or jumping a passing lane, Conley makes life difficult for opposing point guards on a nightly basis, which is very important considering how many dominant guards there are in today’s NBA.
Top Playmaker: Mike Conley
No question Conley is the Grizzlies’ best playmaker. He may not average double digits in assists each night, but he is a selfless player and a pass first point guard. Conley has continually improved over the years at playing at a pace that lulls his defenders to sleep temporarily, giving him the opportunity to blow by his defender, draw in weak side defenders and find an open teammate for a wide open shot. Conley’s game isn’t flashy, but it’s effective.
Top Clutch Player: Marc Gasol
Both Conley and Gasol have hit some game winners over their careers, and the latter gets the nod. Gasol is one of these players who can shed even the fastest, longest and most athletic defenders to get his shot off. Whether it’s DeAndre Jordan or Rudy Gobert trying to keep a hand in his face, Gasol has an array of moves to generate just enough space to get his shot off in any situation. He may not be the most clutch player in the league, but Gasol gives the Grizzlies a chance to hit a last second shot in just about any situation – especially since he can often draw double teams and has the vision and skill to find open teammates.
The Unheralded Player: Brandan Wright
Brandan Wright only managed to play in 12 games last year because of a knee injury that ultimately required season-ending surgery. However, when Wright is healthy, he is a long and active big man that can crash the boards, create extra possessions, move well on defense and partner up in the pick-and-roll effectively. Durability is obviously a concern with Wright, but if he can stay healthy this season, he should offer nice production off the bench. Oh, and he’s a great bargain as he’s set to make just $4.7 million this season and $5.9 million next season.
Top New Addition: Chandler Parsons
Parsons scored a big payday this offseason, signing a max contract with the Grizzlies to take over the starting small forward position. Parsons brings something the Grizzlies have needed more of for several seasons: shooting. He shot an impressive 41.4 percent from distance in 61 games last season with the Mavericks. Parsons is also a capable defender, so he should fit in on that end of the court as well. The big concern with Parsons is his knee injury that required surgery. If he is completely past that injury, this could be a nice signing for the Grizzlies. But if Parsons is hampered by this injury over the course of his contract, this contract will weigh the Grizzlies down and limit their ability to make moves for other players.
– Jesse Blancarte
WHO WE LIKE
1. Mike Conley
As previously stated, Conley is one of the most underrated point guards in the league. He competes on both ends of the court and is the engine that makes the Grizzlies go. Gasol and Randolph are instrumental in the post, but Conley is irreplaceable on this team. Let’s all hope we get to see a full, healthy season out of Conley in 2016-17.
2. Zach Randolph
Randolph may not be as dominant in the post as he once was, but he can still make life difficult for opposing defenses. His slow, calculated approach on offense has given opponents headaches for years, along with his physical and underrated defense. However, Randolph is getting up there in age, so while he will still be handful for opponents, we may start to see some slippage from him moving forward
3. Vince Carter
At age 39, Carter is not the player he once was. However, unlike many other former All-Star players, Carter completely embraced limiting his role and finding a niche where he could still be useful over the last few seasons. His three-point shooting can fall off the rails every so often, but he’s one of the few Grizzlies teams have had to consistently respect out to the three-point line over the last few seasons. Whether he can still make a real impact on the court or is looked to simply as a leader in the locker room, Carter has been a key figure in Memphis for some time now.
4. Marc Gasol
As stated above, Gasol is an extremely well-rounded player that makes the Grizzlies better on both sides of the court. His game isn’t flashy, but it sure is effective. He may not be the best center in the league at this point, but he’s still up there with the best of them.
5. Tony Allen
Allen isn’t the premier defender he once was, but when he is motivated, he is still a handful to deal with. At age 34, Allen is also getting up there in age. Injuries have always been a concern with him as well, so he may have to play less minutes than he has in past seasons – especially with Parsons around to help out with the perimeter defense. While Allen may not be the player he once was, he embodies the spirit of this hard-nosed team and is a key part of their collective identity.
– Jesse Blancarte
SALARY CAP 101
The Grizzlies were significant spenders this past summer, going under the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap to sign Chandler Parsons to a four-year, $94.4 million contract – then going over to give Mike Conley a massive five-year, $152.6 million deal. Memphis triggered a hard cap at $117.3 million by acquiring Troy Daniels in a sign and trade from the Charlotte Hornets. With $107 million invested in 13 guaranteed players, the team isn’t close to the upper limit.
Vince Carter’s $4.3 million salary is $2 million guaranteed. Other players fighting for the Grizzlies’ two remaining open roster spots include Tony Wroten, JaMychal Green, D.J. Stephens, Troy Williams and Wayne Selden. Memphis cam get below next year’s $102 million projected salary cap, but not significantly (roughly $7 million). That assumes the team picks up the rookie-scale options on Jordan Adams and Jarell Martin. While Tony Allen’s contract is eligible to be restructured and extended, the Grizzlies don’t have the necessary cap room.
– Eric Pincus
Defense and resiliency. The Grizzlies ranked 19th in the NBA last season in defensive efficiency. That may seem like a poor rating, but considering they were without most of their key players and had to go through 28 different guys throughout the season, we can safely say last season was an aberration. In 2014-15, when the Grizzlies weren’t decimated by injuries, they had the fourth-best defense in the league. While their players are getting older, it’s fair to say this team has a shot at being one of the ten best defenses this upcoming season.
– Jesse Blancarte
Shooting. Adding Chandler Parsons should help somewhat, but the league continues to put a premium on shooting and the Grizzlies are simply a step behind most other teams in this department. The Grizzlies shot 33.1 percent on the fifth-fewest three-point attempts per game in the league last season. Unless the Grizzlies make some midseason moves to add more shooting, this will likely be another season where Memphis struggles from the three-point line.
– Jesse Blancarte
THE BURNING QUESTION
Can this core truly contend in the Western Conference under a first-year head coach?
The Grizzlies’ front office opened up the checkbook by bringing in Parsons and retaining Conley. In doing so, this team is going all in on this season to compete for a deep playoff run. However, an ongoing rift between the front office and Joerger led to his departure and the hiring of David Fizdale. Fizdale is a long-time assistant with the Miami HEAT who has drawn high praise for his impact in the LeBron James years. Fizdale is well experienced, but getting this team to the next step, which Lionel Hollins and Joerger failed to do, will be a new sort of challenge. If he can integrate Parsons and has better luck with injuries, it’s possible for this team to make some noise in the Western Conference 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.”
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