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Most Interesting Lakers No. 8: Can Kentavious Caldwell-Pope Can Shine in a Critical 3-and-D Role?

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has an opportunity to provide much needed defense and floor spacing to an offensively-focused squad.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Detroit Pistons Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s Note: The Silver Screen and Roll staff is counting down the most interesting Lakers heading into next season (The 15 guaranteed contracts plus the two guys on two-way contracts). We continue today with No. 8, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and will be counting down to the Laker we think is most interesting with a new piece each weekday until we hit No. 1.

Looking back just two short years, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was seen as a sure thing to receive a max contract from the Detroit Pistons. Although raw, his defensive tenacity and unrealized potential as a shooter made him an obvious building block for the future.

But in one of the most shocking turns of the following summer, the Pistons renounced their rights to KCP, which seemed to screw him over with so much cap space drying up around the league to that point, at least until the Lakers came in with the parachute of a one-year, $18million prove-it deal.

For a player hoping to recover his market value, it would be hard to call the 2017-18 season much more than a wash, which was reflected in Caldwell-Pope resigning with the Lakers on another one-year make-good contract.

Caldwell-Pope’s up-and-down season provided plenty of fuel for both supporters and doubters alike. KCP’s on-court play was maddeningly inconsistent, with him looking like an ideal 3-and-D wing some nights, and shooting the Lakers out of the game with questionable decision-making on others.

In addition to adjusting to a new team, KCP was also playing part of the season on work release from prison, which did not endear him to his teammates or fans. At the end of the day, KCP turned in a ho-hum 13.2 PER and 42.6% shooting percentage, although he hit a respectable 38.7% of his threes.

Where Caldwell-Pope really shined was on defense, though, where he used his length to frustrate opposing wings and take many of the toughest assignments on a nightly basis. He was a big part of the Lakers jumping from dead last in defense efficiency to 12th in 2017-18.

It’s easy to envision KCP as a swing factor for this season’s purple and gold if he is able to build upon last year’s strengths while being asked to do less on a better team. While there’s a lot of uncertainty about minutes allocation with this squad, Caldwell-Pope should be able to carve out a meaty role as one of the few players that can provide consistent floor spacing and be effective without demanding the ball.

In a best-case scenario, KCP could also provide the ability to guard larger opponents as part of the closing unit in a switch-happy Laker version of the “Death Lineup.”

I won’t deny buying lots of KCP stock last year and having a standing order to snap up more this offseason. He is a finalist for the Julius Randle Memorial “Please Step-Up This Year” All-Stars. There’s plenty of reasons to be skeptical about KCP hitting his ceiling in the NBA, but it’s important to remember that the Lakers aren’t asking him to justify a max contract. He just needs to be successful in his role.

If the Lakers want to take the leap next season, it’s a given that they are going to need development from the young core of Ball, Kuzma, and Ingram, but at the end of the day, guys like KCP will also need to play a critical role for them to reach their full potential. If Caldwell-Pope can do — or how the Lakers handle their rotation if he can’t — will just be one more fascinating storyline to watch this season.

The countdown so far:

8. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

9. Moe Wagner

10. Michael Beasley

11. Svi Mykhailiuk

12. JaVale McGee

13. Isaac Bonga

14. Lance Stephenson

15. Luol Deng

16. Alex Caruso

17. Travis Wear