The last few weeks haven’t been kind to the Boston Celtics.
The Kyrie Irving debacle has completely changed the trajectory of the once-thought NBA Finals contender. As the season degraded, their chance to retain the star guard, and maintain a long-term window for title contention, did so with it.
And, now, with the free agent frenzy upon us, another big name is primed to leave Boston.
While many expected Al Horford to decline his player option and re-up with the Celtics for the foreseeable future, Horford has reportedly changed course. Now, the 33-year-old is expected to hit the open market in search of greener (and more lucrative) pastures — just not Celtics green.
Horford isn’t the top player available this summer. But, while he is often overlooked, there is a lot that he can do for a team on the court. A two-way player unlike many others in the NBA, Horford can contribute at a high level on both ends of the floor. He may not single-handedly take a team to a title, but Horford is the type of hard-working, team-first player that is essential to get there.
Any team could make use of a player like Horford, and there are plenty of potential suitors out there. But which could prove the best fit for the big man next season?
The Mavericks are building something special in Dallas.
The rising star power of recently anointed Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic is obvious. But a pairing with fellow European star Kristaps Porzingis — who, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic, is expected to receive a five-year, $158 million contract from Dallas — could rocket them into contender status.
Porzingis hasn’t played in over a year due to a torn left ACL suffered in February 2018. It’s certainly fair to question how the rust from the prolonged absence could affect his game, but Porzingis was a dominant force with the New York Knicks prior to his injury and had his own look of a star in the making. Should he find that form upon his return, the pair could form one of the more dominant duos in the Association.
But, with the cap space they should have after Porzingis’ deal, why not take it a step further?
Pairing Porzingis with Horford would not only allow Horford to slide from center to his preferred position of power forward, but it would create a formidable defensive duo. Horford has proven time and time again that he is one of the best defensive players, let alone bigs, in the NBA while the 7-foot-3 Porzingis has the advantage over almost any matchup in the paint. Together, the two would almost certainly dominate.
Aside from the defensive prospects, Horford would form quite the offensive duo — and lighten the load — with the young Doncic. Horford, who averaged 13.6 points and shot 36% from three-point range last season, would be an excellent pick-and-pop partner for the soon-to-be-sophomore and could take on some of the scoring responsibilities that fell to Doncic last season, especially after the deadline deal that jettisoned Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews and DeAndre Jordan.
Horford, at times, could act as an offense initiator as well, providing more time for Doncic to rest as he won’t have to dominate the ball.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers have big aspirations this Summer.
Namely, Kawhi Leonard.
Los Angeles has been tied to Leonard dating back to last season and, despite the fact that Leonard led the Toronto Raptors to their first NBA championship, they have continued to be connected to him. Leonard, according to Frank Isola of The Athletic and Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, is set to meet with the Clippers at the start of free agency.
Regardless of what goes down with Leonard, the outcome shouldn’t preclude the Clippers from going after another big name free agent. Whether to pair him with Leonard or otherwise, Horford would fit nicely alongside a solid Clippers’ roster in a seemingly wide-open Western Conference.
It’s not as if Horford would be the only major piece for the Clippers — three-time Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams, alongside Danilo Gallinari, Montrezl Harrell, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Landry Shamet headline a talented Los Angeles roster that held their own against the Golden State Warriors in their first-round series. But it is clear that the Clippers and they just need someone to push them to that next level.
While Leonard is the dream scenario (and a pairing with Horford even better) just Horford alone could be enough to take them there.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers roster is a bit bare right now.
Of course, on the eve of free agency, almost every team has the look of an empty cupboard. But for the Lakers, who shipped out much of their under-contract roster in order to acquire Anthony Davis (and later open up another max salary slot), there is some serious work to be done.
The Lakers have the talent; Davis alongside LeBron James could dominate the court with three other players plucked off the street. But the biggest question for the Lakers now is what to do with that extra max slot: do they split the salary into multiple players, or go for the star free agent home run?
The former may be the better choice, but should Jeanie Buss, Rob Pelinka and the Lakers opt for the latter? They also, reportedly, have a meeting with Leonard, but Horford may be the best fit for the Lakers (and their only choice, should things continue the way they have thus far with Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker).
Horford, alongside Davis, James and Kyle Kuzma, would form a potent offensive foursome, regardless of whatever other pieces the team can convince to sign on. Both Horford, Davis and Kuzma can all stretch the floor, which would completely open up the inside for James to get downhill and drive to the basket. Horford could also serve as a nice pick-and-pop option for James.
As with Doncic and the Mavericks, Horford could also bring the ball up the court at times, further reducing the offensive burden on James.
Defensively, Horford could help pick up the slack for a 36-year-old James, who could look to rest on defense (as he has in recent seasons) to stay fresh for an inevitable stretch run.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans could be a tough sell to a veteran like Horford.
After a postseason appearance a year ago, the Pelicans saw their record plummet to 33-49 this season while their best player, Davis, demanded a trade.
But, after some managerial magic (and some draft lottery luck) from recent hire David Griffin, the Pelicans are poised to experience the biggest of bounce backs, armed with Zion Williamson, Jrue Holiday, the massive haul acquired via the Davis trade and potentially more than $30 million in cash. An NBA title may be out of the question, but a competitive season culminating with a postseason run may not be too far off.
And, there is some interest in Horford, according to Marc Stein of the New York Times
Throwing money at Horford wouldn’t be a terrible investment, either. While he may not propel them to a title, Horford would instantly become one of their most important, multi-faceted assets. Yes, his on-court contributions would help them win games — pick and pop with Jrue Holiday and spacing for Williamson could prove integral to an offense that wasn’t exactly great last season — but his veteran poise and presence may be the most important thing someone like Horford could bring to New Orleans; despite the hype, Williamson is still a rookie, and a veteran like Horford could make a world of difference for him, fellow freshman Jaxson Hayes and the other youngsters coming in via Los Angeles.
At this stage in his career, Horford may be championship or bust. If that’s the case, don’t expect much out of the bayou. But, the money would seem to be there for the taking, it’s on Horford to cash in.
The Kings could be in the market for a center.
Willie Cauley-Stein ‘needs a fresh start’ according to his agent, a move that would leave a void at the center spot in Sacramento. Of course, they have a plethora of young bigs that they could try at the five, but Harry Giles is an unproven commodity while they may opt to deploy Marvin Bagley III at the four-spot.
Enter Horford, who could not only serve as an impact starting center, but a level-headed veteran in the locker room of one of the youngest teams in the NBA.
The Kings were a major surprise last season; expected to be one of the worst teams in the Association, the Kings were in the postseason hunt until the last days of the regular season. Similar growth from their home-grown talent — Bagley, De’Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield, etc. — plus the addition of Horford could launch them into the thick of the Western Conference playoff pack, something huge for a team that hasn’t seen the postseason in over a decade.
That lack of success could also be a deterrent though. Should Horford look to ring chase in his next contract, an upstart Kings team (not unlike the Pelicans) may be a tough sell. But the fit is there and, if rings are secondary (i.e. Horford is looking for his last chance to cash in big), the Kings could be an ideal landing spot for him.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder showed interest in Horford back when he was a free agent in 2016 and, looking for something to right their postseason wrongs, it isn’t a stretch to think they would have interest three years later.
General Manager Sam Presti would have to pull off some serious salary cap gymnastics to swing a deal (through either free agency or via a sign-and-trade) — whether that be moving some combination of Steven Adams, Patrick Patterson Dennis Schroder or Andre Roberson or something else entirely — but Horford could be the remedy that Oklahoma City is desperate for.
While Paul George looked like an MVP candidate at times, Russell Westbrook — despite the fact that he averaged a triple-double for the third season in a row — took a major step back and held them back in the postseason. Horford would be an immediate upgrade over Adams as a floor stretcher, as his presence on the outside would prevent teams from rushing the paint on Westbrook drives or focusing solely on George when he has the ball.
Defensively, Horford is stout and, while he may not have the reputation Adams has on that end of the court, there wouldn’t be much, there shouldn’t be much, if any dropoff from the center spot should the Thunder manage to swap one for the other in the coming days.
While he isn’t the marquee free agent this summer, Horford could be one of the top additions as we look back on this offseason. He isn’t a game breaker in a traditional sense, but the impact he has — doing a little bit of everything on the court — is enough to transform a team. With the right pieces around him (already in place or otherwise) he could push any team into the ever-growing of contenders.
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.”