The post-Lebron era of the Miami HEAT has seen the team stuck in a cycle of being competent enough to compete for the playoffs, but not talented enough to take the next step. The team has only made it out the first round once in the past five seasons when they lost in the Eastern Conference semi-finals to the Toronto Raptors in the 2016 NBA Playoffs.
Head coach Erik Spoelstra has been a mainstay, and the team staying somewhat competitive can be largely attributed to his stewardship. After a shaky transition season following James’ departure, Spoelstra helped mold a defensive identity for the HEAT, as the team has finished in the top ten in defensive rating in each of the last four seasons.
After a brief detour to Chicago and later Cleveland that started in the summer of 2016, the prodigal son Dwyane Wade returned to Miami during the 2017-18 season and rode off into the sunset with his farewell tour last season. Wade’s retirement signaled the end of an era, and the HEAT wasted no time in transitioning to their next chapter.
In a blockbuster move, the HEAT agreed to a sign-and-trade with the 76ers, receiving Jimmy Butler and Meyers Leonard in a four-team deal. Hassan Whiteside and Josh Richardson were sent out of Miami as a result, going to Portland and Philadelphia, respectively.
The HEAT will now revolve around the enigmatic Butler and begin their journey towards the Eastern Conference playoffs. Their advancement through those playoffs may come down to the rest of their roster, and what names it is comprised of as the season goes on.
FIVE GUYS THINK…
Jimmy Butler and Pat Riley finally had their wishes granted. The former wanted to be the number one option on a team, while the latter desired to have a superstar name leading his. Butler should have no problem playing next to Goran Dragic, a longtime heady veteran point guard who should bring a reliable secondary presence as a distributor and scorer. With Hassan Whiteside gone, Bam Adebayo is poised to have a breakout season with more minutes and an improved playmaking skill set. The same goes for Justise Winslow, who was tremendous with the ball in his hands last year. Tyler Herro’s rookie season could be a fun one to watch if the summer league was any indication of his true abilities. Don’t forget that Dion Waiters is on his way back as well. Erik Spoelstra’s bunch has grinded through the post-Big 3 days, but this offseason has the potential of taking the HEAT out of basketball purgatory and into a postseason run in the Eastern Conference.
1st Place – Southeast Division
– Spencer Davies
The HEAT have more talent than they get credit for. Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic, Tyler Herro and Justise Winslow are all very nice pieces. They also have among the best Coach-GM/President combination in the league in Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley. But let’s not get too excited – while their division is theirs for the taking, there will be more than enough competition for them in the Eastern Conference. The HEAT are going to have to either add more talent, or a number of their players will have to have career years to secure a top-four playoff seed (and maybe to secure one at all). Fortunately for the HEAT, at least Bam Adebayo intends on doing just that with the starting center position his for the taking. If Adebayo has a breakout year, the HEAT could be more dangerous than most people expect.
1st Place – Southeast Division
– Drew Maresca
The HEAT made one of the biggest moves of the offseason by bringing in Jimmy Butler. Butler gives Miami a true superstar and go-to player. With the pieces already in place, Butler’s presence should be enough for a return to the postseason for the HEAT. One of the bigger storylines for the HEAT this season is going to be the development of Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro. Adebayo seems like one of the best kept secrets in the NBA. He’s emerging a potential double-double threat and an elite defensive player. Herro had a great summer league and figures to be in the rotation right away as a rookie due to his sharpshooting from three. The next big question is Dion Waiters. He’s missed significant time since arriving in Miami due to injuries, having played in a total of 120 games over three seasons. If he’s healthy and ready to go, there should be playoff basketball in South Beach.
1st Place – Southeast Division
– David Yapkowitz
Miami made one major move this offseason – a four-team deal involving the Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers. Among other things, the deal resulted in the HEAT trading Josh Richardson to the 76ers and Hassan Whiteside to the Portland Trail Blazers, while Miami received Jimmy Butler on a four-year, $140,790,600 contract (player option in the final season via sign-and-trade from the 76ers) and Meyers Leonard. Miami is taking a gamble that Butler can be the number one guy at age 30 and that Richardson won’t be a major loss. Butler will need to help Miami draw more talent in the future since this team as constructed doesn’t have enough top-tier talent to realistically make a run to the NBA Finals in the Eastern Conference this season. Miami is often a free agent destination, so it may end up working out for the HEAT. Overall, I think Miami had a pretty decent offseason, but I’m not convinced acquiring Butler is going to benefit the HEAT in the long-term, especially with Richardson now playing in Philadelphia.
1st Place – Southeast Division
– Jesse Blancarte
For some time the Miami HEAT have been a scrappy team just good enough to be in the playoff hunt, but lacking the star power to close the deal. That changed with the arrival of Jimmy Butler this summer. Not only did the HEAT get the star they long coveted, but they also dumped off a ton of salary that wasn’t productive and did so without giving up incoming rookie Tyler Herro or veteran guard Goran Dragic. It is easy to overlook Miami with the sheer volume of star movement, but the HEAT were almost good before they got Butler, and they got Butler. While there are still lots of questions surrounding how this all fits together, Miami looks like a sleeper team to sneak into the top four in the East, and that would be impressive considering they did not have to bottom out to get there.
1st Place – Southeast Division
– Steve Kyler
FROM THE CAP GUY
The HEAT pulled multiple strings to acquire Jimmy Butler via sign-and-trade from the Philadelphia 76ers. The move locked in a hard cap at $138.9 million, which required Miami to shed contracts just to make the Butler deal legal. The team is still very close to that limit with 17 players, five on non-guaranteed contracts, although Duncan Robinson appears to be a lock to make the roster with $1 million of his $1.4 million minimum contract guaranteed. Kendrick Nunn also has $150,000 guaranteed.
The HEAT have their full Mid-Level ($9.3 million) and Bi-Annual ($3.6 million) Exceptions, but the hard cap restriction may force them to go unused, unless the team finds a significant cost-cutting trade. Players on the last year of their contracts like Goran Dragic ($19.2 million) and Meyers Leonard ($11.3 million) could be moved if Miami can find a suitor.
Miami also needs to pick up the team option on Bam Adebayo before November.
– Eric Pincus
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Jimmy Butler
The HEAT finished 26th in offense last season and have struggled to reach league average over the last five seasons. They put their chips on the table this summer to acquire a player who could help reverse that trend in Jimmy Butler.
Butler, a maestro in the pick-and-roll and a solid pull-up shooter, will have the ball in his hands quite often and will be asked to conjure up quality looks for the HEAT offense whenever he is on the court. He is an elite isolation scorer, scoring 1.01 points per possession out of those plays last season, per NBA.com.
The HEAT roster will be conducive to the pick-and-roll and isolation heavy offense that Butler prefers. They have constructed the roster with multiple players who will be content to expend their energy on defense while spacing the floor on the other end.
This will be Jimmy’s team, and the offense will be his to control. If you need any further proof of his credentials, just remember his nickname, Jimmy Buckets.
Top Defensive Player: Bam Adebayo
There are a few options on the HEAT roster to choose from here. Butler has been a consistently strong defender throughout his career, but his large offensive burden and age may lead to a slip on that end. Considering the center position is usually the most impactful defensive position, Adebayo figures to be the HEAT’s lynchpin.
With Whiteside now in Portland, the third-year player will be asked to control the middle. The third-year player has the tools to patrol the paint; he is bouncy and possesses a seven-foot-one wingspan, and the HEAT will hope his instincts continue to improve as he gains more experience.
The HEAT allowed 2.4 fewer points per 100 possessions with Adebayo on the court compared to him off last season, per Cleaning The Glass. This gap could be even larger this season, without the alternation of minutes with Hassan Whiteside.
Top Playmaker: Jimmy Butler
Butler will be not only the HEAT’s best scorer, but their best playmaker as well. Perhaps it is overshadowed by his isolation effectiveness, or perhaps it is a product of his tendency to be embroiled in locker room drama, but Butler seems to be underrated in regards to his creation for teammates.
His assist percentage has been consistently in the top 10 percent of the league for his position over the last four seasons, per Cleaning The Glass. His passing out of the pick-and-roll is a particular strong point, and he possesses the vision to find teammates on the weak side of the court when controlling the ball in these sets.
In each of the last two seasons, both Minnesota and Philadelphia have shot significantly better as a team with Jimmy Butler on the court. Both saw the biggest improvement in their shooting percentage with shots at the rim, per Cleaning The Glass. Butler should have the same effect in Miami, where his driving and passing ability can lead to open lobs and three-point attempts.
Top Clutch Player: Dion Waiters
Dion Waiters will reprise his role as the sixth man this season, armed with irrational confidence and a deadly step-back jumper. His fearlessness in big moments makes him a go-to option for the HEAT in the waning moments of a tight game.
Yes, Jimmy Butler hit multiple huge shots and a couple of buzzer-beaters last season. Waiters, however, shot 51.4 percent in the clutch two seasons ago, his last fully healthy season. For comparison, Waiters’ field goal percentage overall was a mere 39.8 percent. To say the Syracuse product raised his game in the clutch would be an understatement.
After an injury-plagued 2018-19 campaign, Waiters will be hungry to once again take the stage in the final minutes. If the ball ends up in his hands down the stretch, he may just break a few hearts.
The Unheralded Player: Goran Dragic
Goran Dragic is often overlooked as the offensive engine for this team. Two seasons ago, Dragic was the team’s lead ball-handler and helped power the offense just enough to make the playoffs, as the HEAT finished sixth in the East. Last season, Dragic missed extended time with injury, and the offense slipped as a result.
Now, the Slovenian is expected to be healthy for the upcoming season. Albeit with a reduced role, Dragic will still be a very important player for this HEAT team.
In the few games he played last season, Dragic had a profound effect on the team’s transition offense. The HEAT scored 124.2 points off of 100 transition plays coming from a live ball rebound with Dragic on the court, compared to just 99.3 points per 100 plays with off, per Cleaning The Glass.
Dragic will push the pace and help the HEAT generate easier looks, something they may sorely miss when Butler is resting.
Best New Addition: Jimmy Butler
With apologies to Meyers Leonard, this designation can only be given to one person. Butler is the best offseason acquisition that the HEAT has made since the summer of The Decision when LeBron James took his talents to South Beach.
As mentioned above, Butler will immediately be the fulcrum of the HEAT offense, and the team will run through him on that end. Butler is no slouch on the defensive end, and he should guard the opposing team’s best wing player when the games matter most.
All in all, Butler is a four-time All-Star, a four-time All-Defensive Team selection, and two-time member of the All-NBA Third Team. He will command attention on and off the court, and the team’s postseason hopes will rest on his shoulders.
– Quinn Davis
WHO WE LIKE
1. Erik Spoelstra
Erik Spoelstra is the second-longest tenured coach in the NBA, behind only the legendary Gregg Popovich. He was hired by the HEAT at the end of the 2007-08 season and has been manning the sidelines ever since. He helped lead the team to two NBA championships with the Big Three and has firmly cemented himself as of the league’s premier head coaches.
A sign of a great coach is the ability to mold a team’s identity to fit the personnel, and Spoelstra has done just that. During the Big Three era, he propelled the team to new heights and ushered in the small-ball era by moving LeBron James to the four, with Chris Bosh playing as a stretch five. He also employed a frenetic, trapping defense that played to the strengths of both James and Dwyane Wade.
In recent years, Spoelstra has changed his defensive scheme to fit the more conventional center in Hassan Whiteside and has kept his team near the top of the league in that department. He also has moved to a more free-flowing offense featuring a heavy dose of dribble-handoffs, due to a roster lacking elite isolation scorers and pick-and-roll players.
With the new additions for this season, Spoelstra will likely have some new wrinkles planned. History tells us that he will be able to push the right buttons.
2. Meyers Leonard
After spending the first seven years of his career with the Portland Trailblazers, Leonard will now suit up win Miami after being included in the four-team Jimmy Butler trade. While all of the focus has rightfully been on the Butler acquisition, Leonard will also be a solid contributor to the HEAT this season.
Leonard was a beacon of efficiency last season in Portland. He shot 46 percent from three last season on 107 attempts, and 76 percent from the rim on 83 attempts. While the volume is a bit low, the accuracy is elite. If Leonard can continue to be an elite floor spacer off the bench for Miami, he will be a valuable bench piece going forward.
3. Justise Winslow
Winslow, a member of the HEAT since the 2015-16 season, has improved each year he has been in the league. Last season, he reached his highest usage and was at his most efficient since entering the league.
Most encouraging has been his three-point percentage jump. After laying bricks in his first two seasons, Winslow has shot 40 and 38 percent from deep in his two most recent campaigns. His usage will likely decrease as Jimmy Butler will have the ball often, so his efficiency may rise even further.
The Duke product also brings value on the defensive end. He is a strong, physical defender that can guard 1-3 and even some small fours effectively. The HEAT were 3.7 points per 100 possessions stingier with Winslow on the court, per Cleaning The Glass. He will be a key piece this season and will likely be asked to do the heavy lifting on defense so Butler can reserve his energy for the other end.
4. Tyler Herro
The rookie from Kentucky was selected 13th by the HEAT in the 2019 draft and, after a standout Summer League performance, figures to be a factor in the rotation this season.
He averaged 19.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists in the Las Vegas circuit. His efficiency was a bit low – he shot 33 percent from deep and 42 percent overall – but that can be attributed to his role as the focal point of the HEAT’s Summer League offense and attracting the most defensive attention.
As a bench piece this season, Herro will mostly be asked to knock down spot-up looks, which was a specialty of his in college. He also has a good handle, is a nifty passer and is able to attack closeouts and make plays off the dribble.
He will be a work in progress on the defensive end, but he projects to be a nice role player for this HEAT team and could take on a larger role as a secondary playmaker as he matures.
– Quinn Davis
There is no shortage of veteran leadership in Miami, where the team boasts several experienced players that should make for a strong locker room. Udonis Haslem will return for another season after mulling retirement, and he brings a respected presence. Jimmy Butler, while not without his past drama, is a respected veteran who will command attention. He took on a mentorship role in his stint in Philadelphia last season, and he should do the same with the likes of Justise Winslow, Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn next season. Former MMA fighter James Johnson will also bring a battle-scarred presence to the team.
Additionally, the team will be strong on the defensive end as long as Spoelstra is at the helm. They have the personnel to be in the top 10 for the fifth straight season and could shoot even higher if Butler brings consistent effort and Adebayo continues to improve.
– Quinn Davis
Outside of Jimmy Butler, the team may have trouble creating quality looks on offense. Dion Waiters is a likely candidate to take on playmaking duties while Butler rests, but his passing leaves a little to be desired, and he tends to be rather streaky.
Goran Dragic is another that some may point to as a potential creator, but his explosiveness continues to wane as he ages. Dragic also missed about half of last season due to injury, and the HEAT will need him at full strength if he is to carry some of the offensive load.
Another issue could be the rim protection behind Bam Adebayo. The HEAT rounds out their big man rotation with Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard, both of whom have not provided much resistance at the rim in their careers. While this weakness may be mitigated with some creativity from Spoelstra, it is certainly something to monitor as the season plays out.
– Quinn Davis
The Burning Question
Will the HEAT add a second star this season?
The NBA summer of 2019 was defined by superstar duos. Anthony Davis was traded to the Lakers to pair with Lebron James, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George moved mountains when it was announced they would both be suiting up for the Clippers, and Russell Westbrook was traded to the Rockets to form an electric backcourt with James Harden.
The HEAT, meanwhile, traded for Jimmy Butler, and have since been rumored to be in the running for any and all available superstars to form a duo of their own. They were rumored to be the leader for Westbrook before Houston was able to outbid them.
After Chris Paul was sent to Oklahoma City as part of that trade, many pegged the HEAT as a top suitor for the future Hall of Famer. Paul’s gargantuan salary makes trading him a tall task, as the HEAT do not currently have much cap flexibility. It is also unclear how much the HEAT value Paul as a second superstar considering his age and slip in production last season.
With Butler in the fold, the HEAT figure to be a competitive group, but without a significant acquisition, they will struggle to keep pace with the elites. At a glance, the options they could add in the short term are limited. Bradley Beal is typically mentioned as the star who needs a change of scenery, but the Wizards have made it clear that they are not interested in moving him at this time.
It seems unlikely that a second star will suit up for Miami this season, but the NBA is a fluid environment. One locker room incident or a sluggish start to the season could lead to a trade request from Beal or another major name before the deadline. The HEAT is also helmed by master negotiator Pat Riley, who orchestrated the formation of the Big Three in 2010. He will leave no stone unturned in the quest for a title.
– Quinn Davis
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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