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NBA Daily: Could A Junior Basketball League Work?

Could a ‘bridge’ league that fills the gap between high school and the NBA really work?

Steve Kyler

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We Got A Logo And Everything

Famed hype man LaVar Ball took to social media yesterday to announce he was building his own junior basketball league that he has dubbed the “Junior Basketball Association” or JBA.

While we’re not going to spend a lot of time on Ball or how he has managed to continue to stay in the press. The idea of a league for players just out of high school but not interested in college is interesting on a couple of fronts.

Before we get too deep into this, there is a strong chance the NBA and the Players Association are going to do away with the much-maligned “One and Done” rule that requires a player to be one year removed from his high school graduating class and turn 19 in the year he is drafted.

The prevailing belief in NBA circles is that likely for the 2020 draft, the NBA will opt for a rule that allows players to come straight from high school into the NBA or stay in college for at least two seasons if not more.

It’s far from decided, but it seems the winds of change are pushing more in that direction than continuing to have the current rule.

So why is Big Baller’s idea interesting if the NBA is going to squash the appeal fairly soon? The NBA isn’t going to take everyone, and Ball’s league could bridge a gap that many have tried to bridge before him.

So, let’s dig into it:

Paying Players

The idea of creating an environment were players who are not interested in the politics of college basketball can be paid to train and develop is not new, virtually ever other year someone surfaces with a dream of building a league to poach some of the top high school talents and bank on them like the NCAA does. The problem is that paying the players isn’t always easy.

Ball’s plan suggests that he’ll pay players up to $10,000 per month. With the average player making a figure closer to $3,000 a month. That all sounds attractive, but how long is the season?

Ball’s own sons recently made news signing a professional deal in Lithuania. However, industry insiders say the deal is basically for $4,000 and what is likely going to be four games, almost no one expects them to be on the roster beyond that stint.

So how long is the JBA season? That will factor into the appeal of any new league significantly. Equally how many games? And what’s the coaching and training staff look like?

Those are all going to factor into a big chunk of overhead on any new start-up team, beyond a payroll that could clock in at $35,000 a month.

As much as people like to talk about the appeal of young guys, can they really generate attendance of 2,000 to 3,000 per game? The G-League isn’t doing that on a regular basis, and they have the sales support of their parent NBA teams.

Equally are the top 10 collegiate prospects going to turn away the likes of the famed college programs such as Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke for a few months in Ballerville for $30,000-$40,000?

If the answer is no, will the next 20 players in any particular high school class draw enough attention to meet payroll? Let alone the other costs of the league.

Arenas Are Not Cheap

Speaking of costs, ever try and rent a gym? How about an arena?

Orlando’s Amway Arena runs roughly $15,000 plus actual staff expenses for things like fundraisers and graduations. A concert, which is what the JBA would likely fall under, would run north of $50,000 per event date. That’s in Central Florida, not a major metro situation like New York or Chicago where competition for large event space is much higher.

The idea that a new startup league is going to play in NBA sized venues is a bit misplaced, especially if it’s happening concurrently with the NBA season. So that means the league is moving to smaller venues, which would cap attendance.

You can also cross off using any venue that has an association with a Division 1 NCAA school, again they are going to have first rights to dates, and they are going to view any league pulling talent away as a competitor.

It’s not going to be impossible to find spaces, but it does mean those spaces may not be the most desirable and they will be limiting on a lot of fronts.

Travel Is A Big Factor

So, the idea is for a 10-team league in places like Los Angeles, Dallas, Brooklyn, and Atlanta. While all of these are major airline destinations, the travel is still a killer. It’s been what’s killed other startup leagues because it’s an area of expense you cannot monetize.

If you host a game, you can at least charge for tickets, sell advertising and sponsorships and, if you are lucky, sell broadcasting rights.

You can’t exactly attach a sponsor to your road trip expenses.

So again, how long is the season? If every team plays each other one time, each team incurs ten travel dates. If the new league travels like the G-League travels, they will fly the day before the game because commercial travel is unpredictable. They would incur a hotel night the night before the game and the day of the game. Then travel to the next stop.

So, let’s say the new league does a deal with a major hotel chain and gets a flat rate for all their nights at something close to the median rate of $130 a night for a Courtyard by Marriott type hotel (which is what the G-League does), the real costs of travel (based on rates today) is about $150 a leg for airfare on an airline like Southwest, plus two nights hotel at $130 per night, plus food. So, lets generously call that $560 per player.

Assume JBA teams travel just like G-League teams, and send three coaches and an executive/GM type and no parents. That’s 12 heads times $560 per road trip or $6.720. Multiple that by ten road games.

By the way, we didn’t account for bus services to and from the airports or the hotels.

Equally, anyone that travels to major cities will tell you, good luck finding travel accommodations at those kinds of prices, especially during peak travel windows. But for the sake of discussion, let’s assume the new league can make great corporate deals with an unproven, untested product.

Let’s also forget that most major NCAA programs travel charter and stay in four and five-star hotels when they travel and that the players coming to the JBA will be open to staying several steps down the ladder to be part of a league that most won’t see play.

Broadcast Rights

Here is where Ball may have an advantage: broadcast rights.

Last year, rapper and media mogul Ice Cube and several business partners launched an upstart 3-on-3 league featuring mostly retired NBA basketball players called the Big3. Not only did Fox Sports go all in on the Big3 in a major way, but they have also renewed for a second season and have made a commitment to carry many games live.

Ball’s family already has a multi-million dollar relationship with Facebook for their own reality television show, which Facebook renewed for a second season. Could that be where Ball’s JBA finds its golden parachute? ESPN is what’s made The Basketball Tournament (TBT) viable.

Could Facebook be the answer to the JBA’s problems? That’s a very real thing.

Where most upstart leagues that have tried to tackle this problem have run into problems is that some media partners have been willing to license their games, but most won’t eat the production costs.

With new broadcast players entering the streaming sports market every year, could the desire for content provide the revenue to make all of this work?

That’s where the incredibly media savvy Ball may have a leg up on others that have tried to fill this gap because he has business relationships in that space already.

Selling The League

Let’s also be realistic about the long-game for any of these leagues. If anyone wants to have a long-term business in this particular space, they are going to need major backing. While media companies may latch on for a rights fee, the real value in something like this is if it is can be sold.

The NBA is taking an increasingly active role in youth level basketball, announcing this month that they will get behind a Jr. NBA Tournament series, much like the Little League World Series. They are investing in NBA branded training academies all over the world to help develop the next generation of basketball players. So, a league like this might be something the NBA looks at partnering with.

If you think back to the beginning days of the NBA minor league, it started with acquiring existing markets that were part of the Continental Basketball Association.

The CBA might not be the best example, though, because they overplayed their hand and ultimately lost out on a major payday. The NBA eventually gobbled up some individual teams on their own after the CBA crumbled, as well. Still, the idea is the same.

If a league like this has success, and really solves the gap, would the NBA or another major entity get involved in a way to give it the resources and support to thrive?

Selling The Players

Something no one involved in these kinds of endeavors talks about is that fact that a league like this could do the same thing international teams do with young players, and that is to sign them, develop them and then sell them off to the NBA or other pro leagues with hefty buyouts.

The current NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement allows NBA teams to pay up to $700,000 towards the buyout of a professional contract for the 2018-19 season. That number increases every year by roughly $25,000.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban once speculated that it might be a good business for someone with the capital to gobble up 8 to 10 of the top high school freshman, pay for their development and then bank on two or three of them becoming top ten picks.

Nothing in the NBA would bar a team from buying out a professional contract issued in the United States.

If the JBA league brings in 80 players a season, and 10 of them become top 20 picks, and they can command the full allowable NBA buyout, that’s $7 million a year in buyout money.

Equally, the JBA could do the same internationally, although likely at a smaller value. The G-League has buyouts in their contracts worth between $40,000 and $50,000 for players signed to their league that opt to leave mid-season. That buyout is paid either by the acquiring team or the player himself.

With the emergence of two-way contracts in the NBA, roughly 60 players that would have normally played abroad opted to stay in the NBA. If the trend continues, international teams will need a pipeline to promising talent and a bridge league like the JBA—one that was smart about the players it targeted—could fill that gap too.

While the idea of a bridge league to cover the gap between high school and NBA eligibility has been kicked around a lot over the years, there may be an interesting convergence of timing, media publicity and desire for content that makes this league idea more viable than ones that have come before it.

Regardless of how you feel about LaVar Ball or his antics, he has lived this problem with his two sons. As investment people will tell you, the best business ideas are the ones that solve a real problem.

The challenge for any new league doing this is at any point, the NBA could change their rules and make the problem the league solves obsolete.

As they say, timing is often everything.

Can Ball and the JBA get their league off the ground before the NBA decides to address the issue?

That is one of the biggest questions of them all.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @JBAancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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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.

Drew Maresca

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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.”

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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.

David Yapkowitz

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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.

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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.

David Yapkowitz

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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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