A fine argument could be made that the Los Angeles Lakers have the mother of all roster problems after superstar/unofficial GM LeBron James effectively tried to trade the entire roster plus their wives, children, and household pets to the New Orleans Pelicans in the ongoing dumpster fire that is the Anthony Davis fiasco.
At perhaps greater issue is what this means in terms of a bunch of guys the Lakers are inevitably going to have to move if they’re to have any hope of maintaining even the faintest semblance of team chemistry. It may be deader than disco now, to rise in the playoffs only as a zombie to be beheaded by the likes of Golden State or Denver, but Bron’s got three years left on his contract.
So let’s consider this week’s subject of Is He Any Good, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the backup shooting guard (he’s started 12 games because of LA’s injury trouble and roster instability, but he is undeniably a bench guy), and ask ourselves whether there is any hope at all…well, not of the Lakers getting value for KCP in a trade since his contract expires in June, but of Caldwell-Pope getting anything even remotely resembling the $12 million he earned this year.
In other words, is he, even in a fifth-man capacity, the fringe starter or sixth man that his Lakers minutes implied him to be this year?
Y’know, Starter Mendoza Line win shares, couple of VORP, won’t miss every shot he takes, if you read this column regularly, you know where this is going to end up, it’s just about digging through the numerical sandbox.
As always, we begin with…
The Counting Stats
For season averages, KCP is at 10.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and 0.9 steals against 0.7 turnovers and 1.5 fouls per game, all in 24 minutes. He’s shooting 43.3 percent from the field and 34.8 percent from three.
Per 36 minutes in the case of the fantasy counters, and across a six-year career for the 26-year-old, those numbers rank 1st (points), 2nd (rebounds), 4th (assists), tied for last (steals), and 2nd-fewest (turnovers.) The shooting percentages are highest (FG) and third-highest (3PT) to go with a career-best 85.0 FT percentage.
So it’s not like KCP has lost anything. His role has become “bench scorer”, and he’s stepped into it well on a per-minute basis, all while becoming more efficient shooting the basketball.
We can argue among ourselves whether you really want a below-league-average three-point shooter for $12 million, since the Pacers got a similarly below-average cruddy three-point shooter (Cory Joseph) for two-thirds of the price.
In fact, let’s unpack this. We’ll take the guards who have played at least KCP’s 1,368 minutes this season, sort them to find similar shooters/scorers with a little assist from Basketball Reference’s wonderful Play Index, and see what they make in salary.
Granted, this “five-man bracket” ranks between 41st and 45th out of 64, with DeMar DeRozan (7-of-41) and Ben Simmons (0-of-3) in the basement. We also see highly-paid guys like Russell Westbrook, Jrue Holiday, and Eric Gordon down in the nether regions of that garbage pile.
So we don’t really have useful data here other than to say we’ll need a better measure. We’re gonna need…
The Advanced Stats
Here, the picture gets cleaner.
Let’s just list the Big 5: 12.4 PER, .573 TS%, .099 WS/48, -0.6 BPM, 0.5 VORP.
That’s…both good and not good.
A guy floating around .100 on around a .500 team is broadly in line with expectations for a starter on a mediocre team, something KCP was first in Detroit and now in a relief role in Los Angeles.
A guy with a positive VORP at least shows that he doesn’t belong warming the bench behind a G-Leaguer.
But a 12.4 PER is a scorer who doesn’t score, a Trevor Ariza at one end of the scale and a Bruce Bown or Rafer Alston defensive stopper whose job isn’t to put the ball into the basket at the other end.
Except all of those guys are good defenders; KCP’s BPM pretty solidly establishes his defense as below-average, and it’s not like the Lakers are just trash on defense (LA is 11th in Defensive Rating league-wide.)
I mean, you gotta love the .573 TS%, but why is it that KCP’s true shooting is up since he left Detroit?
It’s not that he made a leap. It’s that he’s got Luke Walton coaching him instead of Stan Van Gundy.
Broadly, you can if absolutely nothing else say that KCP is looking like the bog standard guy we were after when we started this inquiry, but falls just consistently short of the mark by enough that, well…
If the question was simply “does Kentavious Caldwell-Pope not suck,” then we’d have a Confirmed.
But we set the bar higher. He makes $12 million. One presumes he’ll want to try and command that in free agency.
And while he isn’t Tyreke Evans, he’s not exactly a guy you want chewing up meaningful cap space unless you’re dazzlingly weak at shooting guard.
So let’s say this is Plausible. Right situation, right coach, right teammates, right role, you get something out of him. He’s an upgrade for some teams as a backup (or even starting) SG.
None of those teams just happen to be good. So Plausible.
NEXT WEEK: Taj Gibson.