KCP Set For Key Bubble Role
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been an important player for the Lakers throughout the 2019-20 season, perhaps best shown through his No. 3 ranking in minutes per game (25.4), behind only LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
And yet, due to the absence of Avery Bradley for the duration of the season, and Rajon Rondo for 6 to 8 weeks, KCP’s value just went up.
Coach Frank Vogel suggested last week that KCP will very likely start in Bradley’s place, citing how well Caldwell-Pope performed when Bradley was out for 20 games, helping the Lakers go 17-3.
“KCP has been one of the brightest parts of the season,” said Vogel. “He had a terrific stretch there particularly that time where Avery was out. After a little bit of a slow start, being one of the leaders on our team in playing harder than our opponent.
"The hustle, the intensity, changing ends of the floor, and then the shot-making that he exhibited during that stretch and really most of our season was a huge reason for our record.”
KCP’s numbers were markedly better in his starts:
Starter: 11.1 points, 51.3% FG’s, 43.4% 3’s, 64.1% TS, 2.3 boards, 2.0 assists
Bench: 8.8 points, 45.1% FG’s, 37.2% 3’s, 56.7% TS, 2.0 boards, 1.5 assists
Of KCP’s 20 starts for Bradley, 18 came between Nov. 15 and Dec. 22, when Bradley sat with a hairline fracture suffered early in the season at San Antonio. LAL went 15-1 before suffering back-to-back losses at IND and MIL at the tail end of their most difficult road stretch of the season.
Perhaps the biggest plus KCP provides to the starting lineup is his ability to space the floor, as witnessed by his percentages as a starter. Overall, he shot 39.4% despite a slow start (22.2% in October) and a slow March (28.6%). In fact, if you take out October and March (6 for 23), KCP shot 40.9% from distance, buoyed by his 43.5% in November, 46.2% in December and 42.6% in January, when his minutes were higher.
That makes sense not just because you often get better shots playing with the starters as a wing shooter, but because KCP is a rhythm player. Moreover, since the Georgia native will reliably get his shots up quickly, defenses always have to respect his shooting threat, which helps the spacing around LeBron and AD.
KCP’s offensive rating on the season is a robust 112.6, ranking alongside Danny Green (113.6), bigs JaVale McGee (113.6) and Dwight Howard (112.8), plus LeBron (113.3), with AD (112.3) right there. One way to look at this: put lob threats and shooters next to LeBron and AD and your offense is going to be very, very good.
What comforts Vogel is that if KCP’s shot is falling, or not, he always brings his best effort defensively, where he can guard 1’s, 2’s and some 3’s.
“You need two-way guys that play both ends of the floor,” Vogel continued. “With his shot-making ability and (ability) to make plays off the bounce as well as what he brings on the defensive end, being able to put him on really anybody on the perimeter, a big part of our defensive rating and a big part of our success this year.”
As KCP stated on a Wednesday Zoom call from Orlando, he’s just planning on playing his game, with the same mindset as always.
“I don’t think it affects it at all,” he said. “I think it’s just the same as when Avery was out at the beginning of the season when I did start 20 games. Just pick up where we left off at. Just play hard and do what I do.”
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