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Utah Jazz 2019-20 NBA Season Preview

The Utah Jazz have been on an upward trend for some time, but this summer may have pushed them over the top in terms of being a serious title contender. Basketball Insiders takes a look at the Utah Jazz in this 2019-20 NBA Season Preview.

Basketball Insiders

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Remember when the Jazz were supposed to be rebuilding? Neither do we.

It’s truly astonishing that in the two years after Gordon Hayward deserted Salt Lake for Beantown, Utah has not only kept the wheels turning, but they are projected to be in a better spot now than they ever were with Hayward on the team.

They say when a door closes, a window opens. In Utah’s case, the window that they have opened in 2017 now has a championship in its view. Let’s not mince words. On paper, this is the best team Utah has constructed since the days of Jerry Sloan. Last year, the Jazz were regarded as a sleeper team, but now, nobody is sleeping on what this team can do.

Utah should be one of the best teams in the league this season, but they’ll have plenty of competitors to square off against. What separates Utah from its competition is that they don’t have nearly as many question marks tied to their roster. They may have some new faces, but these new faces are adding to an already great team as opposed to being added to make a great team.

With that, let’s take a look at the 2019-2019 Utah Jazz.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

The Jazz had a sneaky good offseason, which would have received far more media attention in years prior but, in 2019, adding Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jeff Green and Emmanuel Mudiay to an already loaded roster doesn’t move the needle quite like adding a top-three player. The Jazz are deeper than most other teams in the league. Losing Derrick Favors and Jae Crowder will hurt on the defensive end, but the Jazz still have Dante Exum and Royce O’Neale who can play similarly versatile roles. And Conley is a huge upgrade from Rubio on both sides of the floor. So while the Jazz play in one of the toughest divisions in basketball, expect them to walk with the Northwest Division crown over the Nuggets and Blazers.

1st Place – Northwest Division

– Drew Maresca

If the Clippers were the winners of the offseason out West, then the Jazz were the team right behind them. It cannot be stressed enough how important the addition of Mike Conley was. Donovan Mitchell does not have to be the primary ball-handler and does not have worry about having to create for everyone else on the team as well. That’s Conley’s job now. Not only that, but they struck gold in free agency with Ed Davis, Bojan Bogdanovic, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Jeff Green. They’ll all fit well with the core of Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and Joe Ingles. They are going to miss Derrick Favors though. He was a very good defensive player and efficient scorer in the paint. They also need to decide what to do with Dante Exum. He’s oozing with talent, but he’s been hampered by injuries and hasn’t shown himself to be worthy of the top five pick the Jazz used on him. Exum becoming a decent contributor would be huge for the Jazz. It’s probably too late to ever justify him as being a top five pick, but all they need out of him is someone they can rely on for a few minutes off the bench and play both guard positions. Thankfully for them, if he doesn’t pan out, they have other options they can play.

1st Place – Northwest Division

– David Yapkowitz

The Western Conference is absolutely loaded with championship contenders. It might be safe to say the Jazz could be one of them. Realizing improvements had to be made to bolster his roster, Dennis Lindsey hit a home run by acquiring Mike Conley Jr. to be Utah’s new floor general. He also brought in Bojan Bogdanovic to help boost the offensive side of the ball when the team needs a bucket. We’ve seen what Donovan Mitchell is capable of. Now he won’t have to be depended on to drop 30 on a game-by-game basis for Quin Snyder’s group to win games. Joe Ingles returns as the jack-of-all-trades player he is. Derrick Favors had to be moved, but Jeff Green and Ed Davis should be able to suffice in replacing the veteran big man. Look for these Jazz to be a real player.

1st Place – Northwest Division

– Spencer Davies

The Jazz may have had the most underrated offseason in the NBA, the addition of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanović were master moves for a team that was pretty respectable before the deals. Add in the returning guy’s internal growth and Donovan Mitchell looked amazing for Team USA and it’s clear this is a team on the rise. Rudy Gobert is maybe the top defender on the planet. The Jazz seems like they have everything they need to really compete for something this year. If the Jazz stay health, home court and a deep playoff run isn’t out of the question, in fact it should almost be expected.

2nd Place – Northwest Division

– Steve Kyler

A lot of the focus of the offseason centered on the Lakers trading for Anthony Davis, the Nets landing Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, and the Clippers making a massive trade to acquire Paul George in order to secure a deal with Kawhi Leonard. Lost in the mix is the fact that the Utah Jazz made some aggressive moves to bolster its already talented roster and now enters the upcoming season as a true threat to just about any team, including those that landed star players. Through an array of moves, the Jazz added Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jeff Green, Emmanuel Mudiay and Ed Davis to their roster, which is still anchored by Donovon Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Utah is talented, deep, experienced, well-coached and primed to be a top-level contender in the Western Conference this upcoming season.

2nd Place – Northwest Division

– Jesse Blancarte

FROM THE CAP GUY

The Jazz went under the cap this past summer to trade for Mike Conley and sign free Bojan Bogdanovic. The team used its Room Exception to add Ed Davis, leaving the team with just minimum contracts to add to the roster. Utah has just 12 guaranteed players, with six coming to camp with hopes of earning the three final spots.

Before November, the Jazz need to pick up team options on Donovan Mitchell and Tony Bradley. Looking ahead, Mike Conley has a $34.5 million early termination option for the 2020-21 season. If he decides to leave as an unrestricted free agent, Utah could near $30 million in cap space. With Conley, the Jazz will be over the cap next offseason.

– Eric Pincus

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Donovan Mitchell

Of all “top” players on this list, Mitchell’s listing as the Jazz’ top offensive player would be the most obvious choice of all them. Besides, you know, Utah’s top defensive player, but the point remains the same. Donovan Mitchell is the offensive alpha dog on a team that is hungry for its first championship.

The results weren’t always pretty, but Mitchell definitely stepped up his game after a sensational rookie year. After Utah got through the worst of their schedule at the start of the season, and after his understandable sophomore slump for the first two months of the season, Mitchell went on a tear around the time 2019 started.

From January 5th to the season’s end, Mitchell averaged almost 27 points, 4.8 assists, and 4.6 rebounds on 45/41/81 splits. It was a little late for him to make an All-Star bid, but should he continue to build off of that – playing for Team USA could take him a long way – then there’s no reason why he can’t make his first All-Star team.

The only question left is if he can keep his efficiency when it really counts. We’ll get to that later on.

Top Defensive Player: Rudy Gobert

This isn’t just the obvious choice as far as top choices for the Jazz. This might be the most obvious top choice out of anyone in the entire league. For two consecutive years now, Gobert has taken home the Defensive Player of the Year Award, which was well-earned on his part.

The proof is in the pudding. Gobert is the captain of Utah’s lockdown defense, which has been one of the best in the league ever since his rise to prominence in 2015. Just look at Utah’s defensive rating and where that placed them among their peers in that time.

2018-2019: 105.7 (2nd)
2017-2018: 103.9 (2nd)
2016-2017: 105.3 (3rd)
2015-2016: 103.9 (7th)
2014-2015: 104.1 (14th)*

*Note – when he became full-time starter after they traded Enes Kanter, their defensive rating was 97.6, good for first in the league in that span by far.

When the term “franchise player” gets thrown around, it’s usually based off of a player’s presence on the offensive end. Gobert has given us an alternate take on what makes a franchise player. The Jazz have some excellent pieces on defense, but it would all fall part if Gobert were to be out for any extended period of time. That’s not to take a shot at anyone else on the Jazz roster. “The Stifle Tower” is that good.

Gobert is the quintessential example of what would make a defense-first player a franchise player.

Top Playmaker: Mike Conley Jr.

With Donovan Mitchell expected to grow even more this season, it may not be long before he usurps Conley in this category. For now, Conley gets the nod as the team’s top playmaker for his efficiency in that department compared to his new Jazz teammates. Conley’s 6.4 assist average tops anyone currently on the Jazz roster from last season. There’s more to it than that though.

Conley had an assist percentage of 32.7 percent, which is more than six percent higher than anyone currently on the Jazz roster from last season. He also had an assist-turnover ratio of 3.45, which is also much better than anyone who played in Utah last season. Taking care of the ball has never been an issue for Conley. Considering that the team tied for fourth in turnovers a game last season – 15.1 – they should see an improvement on that front because of him.

Putting all stats aside, Conley’s presence should open up so much for the Jazz offensively. Both his passing and shooting will do many favors for Mitchell and Gobert that they’ve never had since pairing up together on that end. At worst, he’s a step up from Ricky Rubio, which is something that shouldn’t be taken too lightly. At best, he’s an exemplary second-command.

Top Clutch Player: Donovan Mitchell

The Jazz weren’t exactly the best team in the clutch. Last season, they went 15-18 in games that were deemed clutch, good for 21st in the league. There definitely needs to be some improvement there for a team that has a considerably higher ceiling.

Mitchell’s individual stats in the clutch are sort of diappointing. In three minutes a game, he scores 3.1 points while shooting 25 percent from three and 35.7 percent overall in situations considered clutch. It’s not all bad though. The Jazz are plus-6.3 with Mitchell on the court in the clutch, and now, the Spida should have better weaponry around him if they were to play in a game that is considered clutch this upcoming season.

This also revolves around expectations. Part of being a superstar is being the man when it matters the most. There won’t be many players who will have as much or even more pressure than Donovan will this season. In his first two years, he’s taken the league by storm somewhat unexpectedly.

Now, everyone will be watching his every move.

The Unheralded Player: Dante Exum

A year ago at this time, a lot of spotlight was put on Exum. More spotlight than he’d seen since being drafted fifth overall by the Jazz in 2014. He was coming off an encouraging playoff performance against the Rockets, got a sizable raise because of it and the Jazz were in dire need of as much help as possible now that they had started a new era with Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert at the helm.

Sadly, Exum went through yet another inconsistent and injury-ravaged season. His story last season ended usually like it always does. Just as he was turning it around for the better, another injury cut his year short.

Now that the Jazz have revamped the roster, Exum has fallen under the radar… again. With a clean slate of health, and the bar set higher for the team, Exum’s skillset could for the umpteenth year give the Jazz another dimension — a 6’6’’ point guard who is both an elite and versatile defender with a raw offensive game. Unfortunately, that was what many people thought he’d be last year. With the personnel that the Jazz have brought in, his skillset is now more of a secret weapon for Utah.

Then again, that’s what Exum’s always been since he’s been with the Jazz.

Best New Addition: Mike Conley Jr.

When deciding who exactly the best addition was for any team, it comes down to two specific criteria-

1. The best player that was added
2. The player that fills the most holes.

That’s why it was so hard to not make this a tie between Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic. From his elite three-point shooting alone, Bogdanovic fills so many holes for the Jazz. He can also play multiple positions and the team wouldn’t miss a beat. But for a team like Utah, who’s rarely ever been able to acquire all-star caliber players in their prime, Mike Conley Jr. is undoubtedly their best addition.

A player who’s always had the label of “Best player that’s never made an all-star team” would usually contend for best addition. Unless a surefire superstar was added around the same time, an excellent player like Conley is the obvious choice. Conley’s a 20-point scorer, a smart passer, a frisky defender, and he’s even got a reliable jumper. Best of all, he’s a playoff-tested veteran now on a team projected to go on the most extended playoff run it’s had in over a decade.

Utah needed a star who could bring another dimension to their team. They’ve never exactly been an attractive destination for stars in free agency. So, to get someone like Conley, who’s still in his prime, he was about as ideal as they could have hoped for.

-Matt John

WHO WE LIKE

1. Newly found Depth/Versatility on the wing

Just because he technically wasn’t their best addition does not mean that we can’t talk about how impactful Bojan Bogdanovic should be.

Bogdanovic was 10th in the league in three-point shooting, putting up an elite percentage of 42.5 from downtown. Of the nine players that ranked ahead, he had a much more important role in the offense than the likes of Joe Harris, Danny Green, Seth Curry, Davis Bertans. And, unlike Stephen Curry, Danilo Gallinari, Buddy Hield, and Malcolm Brogdon, Bojan did not have much offensive help by his side after Victor Oladipo went down.

Coming off of the best all-around numbers of his career, Bogey’s the best wing Utah’s had since Gordon Hayward. While his presence isn’t as commanding as Hayward’s was in his prime, Bogdanovic’s passing, rebounding and defense have all gotten better on top of his elite shooting. He should be the perfect third banana in Utah’s offense.

He won’t be alone. Last time we checked, Joe Ingles is still a member of this Utah team. Jingles has turned himself into Utah’s swiss army knife, averaging 12.1 points, 5.7 assists, and four rebounds, all while establishing himself as one of the league’s smarter defenders.

The playoffs proved that he definitely has his limits, but now that there’s more upfront talent on this squad, he may thrive even more now that the Jazz will be asking less of him than they did before.

Let’s not forget about Royce O’Neale. O’Neale’s followed a story much similar to Joe Ingles. Going from an unknown to a 3&D rotation guard, O’Neale’s given Utah their money’s worth. What’s most encouraging is that he was one of the few bright spots in what was overall a miserable postseason outing for the Jazz, averaging 10.6 points on 47/35/75 splits.

This is the deepest and most versatile Utah’s wings have been since 2017, back in the days with Hayward and Joe Johnson. We haven’t even started talking about the other productive wing that the Jazz added this summer. And hey, speaking of which!

2. Jeff Green

Uncle Jeff’s legacy in the NBA will always be the guy whose highlights you watch and wonder, how was this guy not an all-star? Lucky for him, the days of him expected to be either a star or the last piece of a title team are over and have been over for quite some time.

Over the last two years, Jeff’s found his niche playing in a lesser role for the teams he played for. First, as a rotation player for the Cavaliers, he played a surprisingly monumental role in helping them get to their fourth consecutive finals when he filled in for an injured Kevin Love. Then last year, Green put up some of the most efficient shooting numbers he’s had in years – 47/35/89 splits – as the 7th man for an irrelevant Wizards team.

Now he finds himself in a similar position with what may be the most well-rounded roster he’s ever played with. For where the Jazz have him in his rotation, this couldn’t be a more perfect situation for Green. If Utah pans out as well as they’re hoping to, Green’s days as a journeyman may be numbered.

3. Quin Snyder

Over the last three years, the Jazz’ moderate success with Snyder at the helm has put the league on notice. In that time, Snyder’s developed a good reputation for getting the most out of his roster despite *technically* not having a star on it.

The jury’s out on whether he’ll objectively have a starless roster by season’s end, but now that he has a contender on his hands, all eyes will be on Snyder to see if his magic will continue on a team that is expected to be good. That’s the difference between the Jazz now, and the Jazz of the last two years.

This is eerily similar to the test that Brad Stevens had with the Celtics when they got Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. He could get the most out of a roster with low expectations. When he had higher expectations and more egos to deal with, Brad’s magic halted.

As of now, Quin has no big egos to manage, and Utah has a roster that isn’t overstocked with talent and just enough for there to be a good balance. This season, as long as nobody gets hurt, we’re going to see Snyder’s true colors. If his success from the last two seasons prove to not be a fluke, we’re in for a treat.

4. Ed Davis

Getting rid of Derrick Favors to make room for someone who fits the team’s needs better was an elephant the Jazz had to confront sooner or later. Once he was traded, they needed a replacement, and they got the best one they could find for cheap value in Ed Davis. An energy rebounder/defender, there may not have been a better backup for Rudy Gobert than Ed.

Unlike Favors, a player with his skillset won’t be too good to have coming off the bench. That’s the role Davis has always thrived in. Favors is the better talent, but Davis makes more sense as the backup 5 than Favors did as the starting 4. By making this switch, Utah no longer has any awkward fits in the frontcourt.

Most remarkably, Davis needs Utah just as much as Utah needs Davis. Davis has always left a good impression for every team he’s played for. It seems that every stop he makes, his team is better off having him around- which makes you wonder why he hasn’t been on a team longer than three years. This season, his services will be used on a contender where they rightfully belong.

-Matt John

STRENGTHS

Defense wins championships as they say. For the last several years, with a healthy Rudy Gobert, the Jazz have boasted a championship-level defense. This season, it should be more of the same. Unless Gobert gets hurt for an extended period of time, Utah should have arguably the league’s best D at its arsenal yet again. Hardly anyone on this roster can be bullied on the defensive end, which can take a team very far in the playoffs.

In fact, now that he won’t be relied nearly as much to carry the offense, don’t be too shocked if Donovan Mitchell emerges as a two-way threat. The Spida has never been a slouch on that end, but he’d had to exert so much running the offense that his individual defense suffered because of it. Mitchell was well-regarded for his defense coming out of college, so him showing that in the NBA would be another step towards superstardom. Not to mention, it would make Utah’s specialty all the more, well, special.

Saying the Jazz have an elite defense would blow the mind as much as saying the sky is blue does at this point. We all know how good they are in that department. What could finally become a strength is their new and improved offense. For the last two seasons, Utah’s offense has been quite pedestrian in spite of Mitchel’s best efforts.

In 2017-2018, they scored 108.4 points per 100 possessions, good for 16th in the league. Last year, that went up to 110.9, which put them at 15th. Now that there is more playmaking and floor spacing to go around, that number is sure to go up. When you think about it, there may not be much that Utah can’t do.

As long as everyone can stay on the floor, this Utah Jazz team should be a well-oiled machine.

-Matt John

WEAKNESSES

What’s so strange is that the Jazz’ greatest strength may stem from the fact that they don’t have a lot of weaknesses, if any. At least on paper. After the summer they’ve had, they took care of two of their biggest weaknesses in secondary playmaking and shooting when they added Conley and Bogdanovic among others. More impressively, they did this without compromising their excellent defense. In fact, by trading Kyle Korver, their defense now has one less hole to cover.

For now, their weaknesses are more hypothetical than anything else. Conley has an injury history, so there’s always the risk of him going out. The bench doesn’t exactly provide much scoring support, but between Mitchell, Conley, and Bogdanovic, that’s enough offensive firepower between the three of them to support the second unit. There is one potential weakness that’s more than just a possibility. What’s worse is that it could make all the difference in the Jazz’ title hoops – Donovan Mitchell’s jumper.

Donovan’s definitely on the path to becoming a superstar, but his shooting deficiencies can’t be overlooked, especially in the playoffs. Houston essentially dared him to beat them as a shooter. As a result, he put field goal percentages of 25.6 percent from three and 36.2 percent overall. No matter how much you may like Mitchell, those are unacceptable numbers for a leader.

For the Jazz to take that next step, Mitchell has to show that he’s improved all-around from that department. The new additions will make his life easier, but the pressure will be on him to show that he’s dependable shooting-wise from anywhere in the half-court. If he doesn’t, that’s a problem. With this team, Utah can weather that storm more than they could last year, but failing to improve on his one weakness could trip the team up at the finish line.

-Matt John

THE BURNING QUESTION

How long will this window last?

Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are both in their 20’s. As long as they stay in Utah, the Jazz will be in the playoff conversation. What we’ve learned over these last two seasons is that those two are good enough to put the Jazz in the playoff race, but also that, alone, they are not enough.

Luckily Dennis Lindsey and the Jazz ownership were smart enough to know that their supporting cast was in dire need of some upgrades. So, that’s exactly what they got them. Mike Conley Jr., Bojan Bogdanovic, Ed Davis, Jeff Green, and Emmanuel Mudiay gives Mitchell and Gobert the best reinforcements they could have realistically imagined. In fact, for a small market team, this was as perfect as the Jazz could have expected. With all of these guys aboard, the Jazz getting their first NBA title is no longer a fantasy.

“Let the good times roll” as legendary musician Rick Ocasek would say, but how long will these good times roll? Conley will be 32 when the season starts, as will Ingles. Bogdanovic will be 31 when the playoffs start. All three are very much in their primes, but for how much longer will they be at the top of their games? And when they start to fall out of their primes, how will the Jazz compensate?

This isn’t a problem Utah has to think about now. It is something they should keep in the back of their minds as the 2020’s arrive.

-Matt John

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NBA

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

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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