From even prior to his signing with the Lakers, the Kentavious Caldwell-Pope Era in Los Angeles was anything but typical.
Caldwell-Pope, who we’ll call KCP the rest of the way for brevity, reportedly turned down offers of $20 million and $16 million annually in back-to-back offseasons while in Detroit.
The Pistons called KCP’s bluff last summer, rescinding his qualifying offer instead of engaging in a bidding war after a trade for Avery Bradley, making KCP an unrestricted free agent.
As confounding as KCP’s route to Los Angeles was, his time on the court was just as quizzical at times.
On the surface, KCP was largely the player he was in Detroit in 2017-18. Whether or not more natural progression should have been expected out of the 25-year old guard is up to interpretation.
KCP averaged 13.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.4 steals per game, seeing his points and assist per game marks go down while his steal and rebound averages rose.
However, KCP was inarguably more efficient than in Detroit. He shot a career-best 42.6 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from three-point territory.
For many fans, though, KCP’s season was marred by a putrid month of December. With off-court issues stemming from a probation violation, KCP was forced to serve a 25-day jail sentence. Through a work-release program, he was able to attend games in California while missing road games, but the mental burden was noticeable.
In counting stats, KCP’s averages hardly dropped in December as he averaged 13.1 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.6 assists. But efficiency-wise, KCP was putrid, shooting just 36.5 percent from the field and 28.9 percent from behind the arc.
His shot attempts went up in the month of December by nearly two field goal attempts and half a three per game. His true shooting percentage in the 11 games in December was just 47.3 percent.
By all accounts, it was a bad month, but for understandable reasons.
If you take out that 11-game sample, though, you see what actually was an improved version of KCP from his Detroit days.
In 63 non-December games, he averaged 13.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.4 steals. The improvement in efficiency, however, was drastic. KCP was a 44/40/79 shooter in games that didn’t take place in December. His true shooting percentage of 58 percent would have been far-and-away the best mark for a season from KCP.
As for his fit in LA, KCP never became the secondary ball-handler some thought he would be next to Lonzo Ball. His usage rate took a drop as did his assist rate. Instead, he was used off screens and as a three-point shooter more often than ever in his career.
Defensively, he struggled at times against the top defensive assignments, though the jump from the guards he saw most often in the Eastern Conference versus in the Western Conference is steep.
Still, there was plenty of positives from KCP season. Even taking into account the month of December, his Player Efficiency Rating and true shooting percentage were at career-highs. Whatever stock can be put into win share numbers, KCP had career highs across the board there as well.
Even more, KCP fits right in line with the Lakers’ timeline. At 25 years old, KCP was younger than Jordan Clarkson. He’s a bit older than the Lakers’ young core but is still plenty young enough that more improvement could be expected.
Whether this all leads to him returning in purple and gold next season is up in the air, as is the fate of many of the Lakers’ free agents. KCP certainly plays like a player who could excel next to a superstar like LeBron James or Paul George. His fit as a 3-and-D guy is clear.
What is most clear, though, is that KCP will not be getting anything near what the Pistons offered him in the past. He won’t be getting $18 or $20 million annually. Whether a team gives him an eight-figure deal annually given the predicted state of the league entering free agency could be up in the air. That would bring in the possibility that the Lakers offer him the mid-level exception depending on how the off-season plays out.
Regardless of where he ends up, KCP proved he could be a valuable contributor on a winning team. And with the Lakers focused on continuing to win again, this could very well be the start of an extended tenure in Los Angeles.