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NBA Daily: Dwyane, Dirk and the Next Torchbearers

After saying goodbye to Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki this week, Ben Nadeau examines the legacies of three legends and where they may end up in the all-time pantheon.

Ben Nadeau

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The NBA Playoffs are finally here, but at what cost?

This week, the community said goodbye to two certain Hall of Famers — Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki.

Beyond their cemented statuses as adored fan favorites for nearly 20 years, the pair also boast an insane amount of professional achievements. Wade finishes his career with the 23rd-most points in NBA history, while Nowitzki closes with the sixth-highest tally at 31,560 — and, importantly, not a single active player in sight. Their statistics back up their cases well, but if that weren’t enough, they share four championships, two Finals MVPs, six All-NBA First Team selections and a whopping 27 All-Star appearances.

Of course, Nowitzki was also the runaway winner for MVP in 2007, handily defeating Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant.

On Wednesday, both Wade and Nowitzki closed their books with memorable moments. In San Antonio, home of Nowitzki’s long-time bitter rivals, the Spurs put together a tribute that moved the German star to tears. Despite losing a step at the age of 40, Nowitzki turned back the clock in his last two games, posting 30 points before dropping 20 points and 10 rebounds during the finale. For Wade, fans and allies alike flocked to the Barclays Center to wish the guard a warm-hearted farewell in Brooklyn.

LeBron James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony all witnessed Wade drop his first triple-double since 2011 — a fifth over in a storied 16-year career — relishing in their best friend’s swan song and encore performance.

This marks the near-end of an era in the NBA and their retirements come sharply in the well-missed footsteps of Manu Ginobili, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and other recent legends. The season-long goodbye tours for Dwyane and Dirk didn’t feel hackneyed as their emotional moments — like commissioner Adam Silver naming both as special additions to the All-Star Game — felt deserved and earned.

But irreplaceable as they may be, somebody else new will need to take their mantle as idolized father figures and record-chasing future Hall of Famers. Aside from the obvious and not-quite-old-enough — hello, Kevin Durant — here’s where things stand headed into 2019-20.

Honorable Mentions

LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

LeBron James’ legacy in the pantheon, even if he suddenly decided to quit tomorrow morning, will never be in question — this much is already clear. The ever-reliable James is fourth in scoring all-time with just Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar left to pass for the elusive top spot. All things considered, health dependant, James will likely reach this summit, along with too many other records to count. It’s not just his bucket-getting prowesses that’ll be on display either as James is already 10th in assists with 8,662 and, as the cherry on top, owns 1,937 steals — good for 17th-best. In conversations about the absolute greatest player of all-time, James’ inclusion is one of the first two or three names on the shortlist.

LeBron James is masterful — but you already knew that. In an ideal world, he’ll be playing long into his forties as well.

Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors

Like James, Durant is headed straight to the top too.

36th in points and 25th in three-pointers made, Kevin Durant — whether in Seattle, Oklahoma City or Golden State — has been a bonafide scoring machine. Durant has averaged an ungodly 27 points per game over his first 12 NBA seasons and shows no sign of slowing down either. His Warriors-related championships remain a polarizing topic, but the record books will only remember the result, not every detail of his ever-winding journey.

If Durant averages just 22 points per game for the next six years, he’d find himself knocking on the door to the top five scorers in league history. Durant has only scored less than 25 points once in his career, notched way back in his rookie year of 2007-08. So, yeah, love or hate him, Durant is here to stay, smash some records and lock himself into all-time legend status.

Carmelo Anthony, Free Agent

Although it’s possible that the now-forgotten Carmelo Anthony could make a comeback next season, the odds remain stacked against him. In 2018, it took just 10 games before the Rockets tossed him aside as his iso-heavy style of play didn’t mesh with Houston’s uptempo Harden-fueled juggernaut. Following months of flirtations with the Lakers, Anthony sadly stayed on the sidelines and without a franchise for the remainder of the campaign.

At the time of his release, Anthony was tallying 13.4 points and 5.4 rebounds on 40.5 percent from the field — so it’s hard to believe that the Hall of Famer’s career has come to such a jarring halt, but that might be the harsh reality.

If this the end of the line for Anthony, he’ll march into retirement as the 22nd-best scorer of all-time, an achievement placed proudly alongside his status as one of basketball’s top Olympians.

The Contenders

Vince Carter, Atlanta Hawks

The list of veterans that could ably take the torch from Wade and Nowitzki, both statistically and popularly, is varied — but it must start with Vince Carter. As of now, it’s expected that Carter will return for his 21st campaign, despite a diminishing role over the years. Although the former high-flying dunker has been offered spot minutes on legitimate contenders year after year, Carter has opted for mentoring position on growing rosters. When the prodigious talent does eventually return, he’s still an unlikely candidate to rise too far up the all-time totem pole.

Regardless, a two-nation farewell tour would suit the eloquent and often show-stopping Carter, a walking highlight reel even at the tender age of 42.

Should Carter duplicate his recent 562-point season (7.4 PPG), he’d finish with right around 26,000 on the career — a total that would push him past both Alex English and Carmelo Anthony, but fall short of Kevin Garnett’s 20th-place ranking. While ursurping Jason Terry for fifth in three-pointers made is certainly still in play — only 53 behind — Carter has the potential to be jumped by both Jamal Crawford and James Harden in 2019-20.

Of note, Carter is 47th in steals and 78th in assists all-time.

Despite his achievements both above the rim and overseas, Carter’s legacy would take an even grander leap if he rode off into the sunset with a ring of his own.

That much, however, remains to be seen.

Dwight Howard, Washington Wizards

It’s been a bumpy road for the often-maligned center but his impressive resume will put him in position to become a first ballot Hall of Famer. It goes without saying, but Howard does not own the strongest outward-facing reputation amongst fans these days. No matter how you feel about Howard, statistics are unavoidably cold and the once-league-wide fan favorite still ranks him highly. After beginning the year on the injured list, Howard played in just nine games before he require what would eventually become season-ending surgery.

Still, it’s the worst ailment of Howard’s career by a longshot and he’ll be a strong candidate to pick right back up where he left off. Even if Howard averages just eight boards per contest over a 60-game clip for the next five years, he would cruise into the top seven for all-time rebounds. Indeed, that estimate feels slightly unfair, admittedly, as Howard had never tallied less than 10 rebounds per game until this season — again, in only nine opportunities, he put up 9.2 boards — and has only played less than 60 games in two of his other 14 seasons.

Reaching the 15,000-plus rebound plateau would put Howard in elite company and in the conversation with Tim Duncan, Elvin Hayes, Artis Gilmore, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. Additionally, Howard owns a puncher’s chance of reaching the top ten in blocks to boot, a reflection of a rim-protecting presence that once won him three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year honors.

At just 32 years old, there’s plenty of time left for Howard to cement his place as an all-timer — just don’t expect many teary-eyed goodbyes in visiting arenas.

Chris Paul, Houston Rockets

Last but not least, there’s Chris Paul, ball-wizard aficionado.

Even if his career ended today, Paul would still be considered one of the best point guards of all-time — that sentiment is hardly up for debate. His awards case, if it’s not already overflown, is comprehensive and far-reaching at the same time. Paul has earned All-Star Game honors on nine occasions and was selected for the All-NBA First Team and All-Defensive First Team eight and nine times, respectively. Furthermore, the 6-foot court general has led the NBA in assists during four different seasons, while he outpaced everybody else for steals in six instances.

Basically, when healthy, Paul is a well-oiled machine of the best variety.

Unfortunately, that’s been his Achilles heel as of late and it may just cripple his attempt at snagging the title of best-ever at his position. Paul has played 58 games in back-to-back seasons and he’s already 33 years old — so it’s fair to ask how much longer he’ll play at an elite level. Given that his assists have dropped with the MVP-worthy rise of James Harden, Paul’s odds of catching John Stockton’s nearly-untouchable assists record of 15,806 are next-to-none. But it’s all gravy from here on out for Paul, who will finish his Hall of Fame-worthy career in the same breath as Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson.

If that wasn’t enough, Paul only needs 392 steals to pass Michael Jordan for third all-time. For a stellar guard that’s finished with under 100 steals in a season just twice, that’s like playing with house money. Whenever Paul does say goodbye — with or without a championship ring on his finger — you can bet that the country will roll out the red carpet to celebrate basketball’s high-level orchestrator.

Ultimately, the loss of Wade and Nowitzki will sting, thanks in part to their strong community ties, statistical achievements and overall cultural influence on the game. Replacing them will be difficult, if not nearly impossible, but there are more than a few worthy candidates to consider. As Carter, Howard and Paul continue to climb the leaderboards alongside James and Durant, the league is clearly in safe and secure hands.

Eventually, however, all great careers must come to a close — for now, let’s just hope there’s a tiny break in Father Time’s unrelenting march toward mortality… ‘cause we’re all out of tears for now.

Ben Nadeau is a Seattle-based writer in his third year with Basketball Insiders. For five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.

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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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