The Los Angeles Lakers had a number of bright spots this season, but no player has been as sneaky-good as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. He’s shot a career-high from three and made big plays on a near-nightly basis, though that hasn’t quite led to the recognition that one would expect.
Despite his success this season, at times, Caldwell-Pope was maddening to watch. Like when he took an ill-advised contested long two or made a mess of a fast break situation. The blunders removed some of the shine from Caldwell-Pope’s play, but a closer look reveals his brilliance.
He faced a difficult December, with legal troubles clearly weighing down his on-court production. After the calendar turned to 2018, however, Caldwell-Pope was downright impressive.
On average, he shot 43 percent from deep from January through the end of the season. It’s an impressive percentage for a player whose career-best mark from three-point territory was just 35 percent prior to this season.
This wasn’t an altogether unexpected outcome, as the thought heading into the season was that Caldwell-Pope would see more open looks thanks to the ball movement and pace of a young Lakers team, but his improvement was still dramatic.
The bulk of Caldwell-Pope’s 3-pointers were assisted, with Lonzo Ball serving as his most-frequent delivery man. Caldwell-Pope struggles with creating looks on his own, but would often catch the ball coming off of a screen and then fires away with a defender closing out on him.
Caldwell-Pope certainly benefitted from playing with Ball and company, but he did more than just gorging himself on wide-open looks. Caldwell-Pope was serviceable off the bounce, proving capable of making the correct read and occasionally throwing a well-timed pass just to remind everyone that he has a bit more in his bag of tricks than the typical 3-and-D wing.
On a Lakers team that ranked 29th in the league in three-point percentage, Caldwell-Pope’s resurgent shooting was a blessing, particularly with injuries plaguing the team for weeks on end. It seems as though every time the Lakers have needed a boost, their shooting guard was there to knock in a timely triple.
Of course, it should be noted that Caldwell-Pope’s arrival in Los Angeles was something of a Godsend to begin with, or as general manager Rob Pelinka called it, “bread from heaven.”
When the Boston Celtics signed Gordon Hayward last summer in free agency, it created a domino effect that saw Avery Bradley shipped to the Detroit Pistons, who then withdrew their offer sheet to Caldwell-Pope, allowing the Lakers to swoop in with a massive one-year deal worth over $17 million.
It’s worth mentioning that Caldwell-Pope’s agent, Rich Paul, also happens to represent one LeBron James. Having Caldwell-Pope in-house gave the Lakers a ready-made excuse to chat up Paul whenever they wanted without fear of getting slapped with (more) tampering fines.
Superstar-hunting aside, Caldwell-Pope and the Lakers appeared to be a perfect fit. He was known as an ace-defender and could take some pressure off of Ball by handing the opponent’s best wing on a nightly basis.
Ball, meanwhile, would generate open looks for Caldwell-Pope while keeping the floor spread with his own ability to shoot from well beyond the arc. Ironically, those roles reversed.
Ball proved to be an excellent defender but poor shooter in his rookie season, while Caldwell-Pope’s own defensive numbers didn’t live up to expectations, but his ability to score was invaluable.
Regardless of the role reversal, in the end, all parties received what they desired. The Lakers gained an impactful player while keeping their cap space free for this summer and Caldwell-Pope turned it on just in time to generate some interest when he again hits the open market.
Unfortunately, despite how well the last few months went, one would have to imagine that Caldwell-Pope will be a long shot to re-sign with the Lakers.
The team is expected to make a strong push for Paul George and James in free agency, and should they succeed in landing both, then it’s unlikely that the Lakers would have the salary cap space necessary to retain Caldwell-Pope.
Even if the Lakers are unable to sign both James and George, one would have to imagine that they will make an effort to keep their cap room free for the following summer, when players like Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, and Jimmy Butler could hit the market.
As such, the Lakers will likely focus on giving out one-year contracts like the one Caldwell-Pope accepting last summer. If a long-term deal presents itself this summer it’s difficult to imagine Caldwell-Pope remaining in Los Angeles.
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