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NBA Trade Watch: The Northwest

Dennis Chambers breaks down the Northwest division and how each team fairs heading into the trade deadline.

Dennis Chambers

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Continuing down the road towards the trade deadline, here at Basketball Insiders we’ll continue to give you a division-by-division breakdown of how teams are equipped to head into the NBA’s last month of trades.

After already covering the Atlantic and Southwest divisions, we now turn our attention to one of the most competitive divisions in basketball, the Northwest.

With four teams boasting a record above .500 at the midway point of the season, it will be curious to see how if these teams decide to add to their current arsenal or stay put for the playoff push.

Minnesota Timberwolves (27-16)

After making their big moves this past offseason to bring in Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, and Taj Gibson — three of their five starters — to pair with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, the Timberwolves are reaping the benefits of those big money decisions.

Currently leading their division, and hitting their stride as the second half of the season approaches, the Wolves are in a position to flex their star power muscles for a deep playoff run. Considering their moves in the offseason, along with inking Wiggins to a max contract and preparing to do the same for Towns, the books in Minnesota are a bit tight at the moment.

With that being said, at this point for the Timberwolves, staying put with the core that’s led them to a record 11 games over .500 so far is their most likely scenario heading into the trade deadline.

Notable Ending Contracts:

None.

Names Worth Talking About:

Like most high-level contending teams in the NBA, the Timberwolves are a bit stuck with their current core. With no real cap room to play with and no notable expiring contracts that can be used as trade chips, Minnesota doesn’t expect to be one of the more active players at the deadline. Barring an incredibly surprising move where the Wolves ship off one of their star players, don’t expect this lineup to look much, if any, different after the first week of February.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Despite having a roster loaded with star-caliber names, there are still some serious areas of weakness for the Timberwolves. Namely three-point shooting, where Minnesota ranks 27th in the league in attempts, and 24th in percentage. As noted, it’s not like the Wolves have much wiggle room to address that need at this point; they are who they are, but if there was a situation where they could add a piece for cheap it would behoove them to take a look at some deep ball shooters.

Portland Trail Blazers (22-19)

With one of the most prolific backcourts in the entire league, the Trail Blazers are once again pushing their way to a playoff berth. Having a ton of money tied up in both Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum doesn’t help Portland all that much in terms of being able to bring any new bodies on board, but with a few expiring deals that are attached to recognizable names, the Blazers could potentially find themselves in a position to make a move should they choose to do so.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Ed Davis — $6,352,531

Noah Vonleh — $3,505,233

Jusuf Nurkic — $2,947,305

Pat Connaughton — $1,471,382

Names Worth Talking About:

The Trail Blazers’ biggest cause for concern should be preparing to sign Jusuf Nurkic to an extension. Nurkic is the perfect thunder to the team’s backcourt lightening. Leading the Blazers in rebounding and blocked shots while also chipping in 14.6 points per game, Nurkic gives Portland an inside presence that can become a matchup problem for some of the finesse teams in the Western Conference.

Alongside Lillard and McCollum, Nurkic is the perfect low-post complement to even out the team’s identity. Portland should be focusing on making sure they can lock up their Bosnian big man before adding new names to the fold.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Even though money is tight out in Portland, the team could absolutely benefit from picking up a bench distributor. With two ball-dominant guards in their starting lineup, the Trail Blazers rank last in the NBA in assists per game. Up until this point, facilitation problems have still allowed the team to win more games than they’re losing, but as the season continues on into the playoffs, ball movement is crucial to sustained success.

Their current financial position is the biggest question mark over the next month. But finding an option to come in and kick up ball movement for the team’s various lineups could go a long way in terms of success.

Oklahoma City Thunder (22-20)

Halfway through the Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony experiment, results are mixed at best.

Despite All-Star names and All-Star paychecks, the Thunder’s trio has shown serious problems in terms of meshing their talents together for a more efficient collective result. With George and Anthony set to be free agents, the Thunder are an increasingly interesting team to watch as the deadline approaches. On record, Westbrook has said that the best free agent pitch to keep George in OKC would be winning a championship. That alone suggests Paul isn’t going anywhere this month. But again, the NBA is a wild ride, and Westbrook isn’t the general manager.

Should everyone stay put, the Thunder have the second half of the season to figure out how they can mesh three ball-dominant players well enough together to make noise during the playoffs. Regardless of what happens, all eyes will most certainly be on Oklahoma City.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Carmelo Anthony — $26,243,760

Paul George — $19,508,958

Jerami Grant — $1,524,305

Nick Collison — $1,471,382

Josh Huestis — $1,471,382

Raymond Felton — $1,471,382

Names Worth Talking About:

The most intriguing names related to the Thunder at this point in time are two players already on their roster: Anthony and George.

With the Los Angeles Lakers scenario looming over George as an evergreen possibility, the Thunder could be in a position to lose another star player for nothing if he decides to walk away from the team this summer. Considering his pairing with Westbrook hasn’t been the wild success the team was hoping for, seeing what Sam Presti could get for George on the trade market is at least a scenario worth exploring.

As for Anthony, his early termination option makes him a flight risk as well. If George bounces for Hollywood this summer, there isn’t much to suggest that Anthony would stick around in Oklahoma City as well.

It’s impossible to tell the future for the Thunder in terms of how many games they’ll win or if they can make a deep run in the playoffs, so making a move at the deadline at this point would be abandoning their experiment without giving it a full season to run its course. That was always the risk in dealing for George and Anthony, though.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

The biggest need the Thunder have to focus on as the deadline approaches is something that can’t be bought or traded for on the open market, and that’s chemistry.

With the third-highest payroll in the league, the Thunder are as strapped for cash as they come. Pulling off a blockbuster trade would require breaking up the current three-man band. Bringing on complementary pieces at this point may just not be feasible financially. Oklahoma City is married to its team at this point in time, and the best case scenario to start seeing more wins is an uptick in chemistry between the star players. Unfortunately, there’s no “chemistry exception” in the current CBA. So I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how this one pans out.

Denver Nuggets (21-20)

After swinging for the fences this summer and signing Paul Millsap to a three-year $90 million deal, the Denver Nuggets got a hard dose of reality when Millsap tore a ligament in his left wrist after just 16 games.

Managing to stay afloat with a record one game above .500 and keeping themselves in the playoff race, the Nuggets are in a position to add a piece or two at the deadline to pair with the return of Millsap for a playoff push.

What makes that tricky for Denver is the reality that they’re over the cap and pretty tight on cash. With a contract extension for Nikola Jokic right around the corner, it isn’t likely that the team will be in a position to make any long-term acquires. But a cheap option to fill out the second unit for a team looking to find the postseason isn’t totally out of the question.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Will Barton — $3,533,333

Richard Jefferson — $1,454,756

Names Worth Talking About:

Currently, there aren’t any names that are directly being connected to the Nuggets. With limited mobility in terms of cap space and tradable assets, there’s a good reason why things are quiet at the moment.

There are some sellers in this market, like the Lakers and their desire to move Jordan Clarkson to free up cap space. Clarkson would be a wonderful fit in Denver, where former lottery pick point guard Emmanuel Mudiay has fallen out of the rotation, as a perfect secondary option like his role in Los Angeles. The only problem is, the Nuggets don’t have the cap room to make a move like that work without shedding some money of their own.

Any particular move made by Denver will have to be the result of them finding a partner to take on contracts of their own. Otherwise, their hands are tied moving forward towards the deadline.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

As mentioned above, the Nuggets could really benefit from having a second-unit point guard to truly solidify their rotation. Since Mudiay fell out of favor, Will Barton has been responsible for that role. While Barton has his moments from time to time, his ability to facilitate an offense effectively comes into question more often than it should with a backup point guard.

Being able to shore up the backcourt of the second-unit would help create a deeper, more cohesive unit for the Nuggets as they look to force themselves into the playoff picture throughout the second half of the season.

Utah Jazz (17-24)

In their first season without Gordon Hayward, the Utah Jazz have regressed as expected. Although Donovan Mitchell has been an incredible surprise for the club, missing the seasoned scorer from the wing has been detrimental to the Jazz’s success.

Along with losing Hayward, the fact that Rudy Gobert has dealt with injury issues this season as well is adding to Utah’s tough campaign. Continuing throughout the rest of this season under their current trajectory, the Jazz will likely be on the outside looking in for the playoff picture. But according to certain reports, Utah will look to add players at the deadline in hopes to add more talent to their roster moving forward.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Derrick Favors — $12,000,000

Joe Johnson — $10,505,000

Dante Exum — $4,992,385

Rodney Hood — $2,386,864

Names Worth Talking About:

As Marc Stein of The New York Times reported, the Jazz are serious suitors for Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic.

With Utah showing interest in bringing aboard the likes of Mirotic, a frontcourt set to potentially lose Favors this offseason could find a bit more stability. An offensive-minded four, Mirotic could do well under Jazz head coach Quin Snyder, who has a knack for capitalizing on players’ offensive potential. As the trade deadline approaches for both the Bulls and Jazz, it appears that Mirotic will be the hot name.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Piggybacking off of the Mirotic noise, the Jazz’s most obvious need at the deadline would be depth. Particularly in the frontcourt. With Gobert sidelined, and Favors a free agent, bringing in Mirotic to an offensive friendly system could be beneficial for both parties.

Whether the Jazz actually make the move or not remains to be seen, but over the course of the next month, with Gobert’s knee a question mark right now, Utah could only benefit from bringing in some back up on the front lines.

Dennis Chambers is an NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. Based out of Philadelphia he has previously covered NCAA basketball and high school recruiting.

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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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