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Most Interesting Lakers No. 9: Can Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have his best season yet?

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In a traditional LeBron James offense, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope could have the breakout season Lakers fans have been waiting for.

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Los Angeles Lakers v New York Knicks Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: For the second year in a row, the Silver Screen and Roll staff is counting down the most interesting Lakers heading into next season. We will be going through all 20 training camp spots before the season begins, and today we continue with No. 9, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

Next season, the Los Angeles Lakers will have six returning players on their roster, the fewest number of returning players they’ve had since the 2015-16 season. Of those six players, only two of them have at least two years of experience with the team: Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

While Kuzma will enter the season on the third year of his rookie contract, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will be playing on his third one-year deal in three years. Unlike previous years, though, Caldwell-Pope will have a player option worth $8.4 million at the end of next season. In total, he’s accumulated $37.8 million in guaranteed money with the Lakers.

While it’s not the five-year, $80 million contract he reportedly turned down from the Detroit Pistons in 2017, it’s good money, and if he plays his cards right with the Lakers next season, he could earn the cash he lost out on back as soon as next summer.

Washington Wizards v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Caldwell-Pope has shown flashes of being the prototypical 3-and-D wings so many teams covet in today’s NBA, but he hasn’t able to do it on a consistent basis. After seemingly turning a corner in his first season with the Lakers, Caldwell-Pope’s 3-point percentage went from 38.4% to 34.7%, and his defensive rating dropped from 108 to 112.

The Lakers’ underwhelming season might not fall solely on Caldwell-Pope’s shoulders, but it’s safe to say they were expecting to build on what he showed in the season prior, particularly with his 3-point shooting. The same can be said about Kuzma and Josh Hart.

With James and Davis on the roster this year, Caldwell-Pope likely won’t be the difference between the Lakers making the playoffs or not, but he could be the difference between them being pretenders or contenders.

Outside of Danny Green and Alex Caruso, the Lakers don’t have many serviceable defensive guards on their roster. In fact, with the exception of Green and Caruso, every one of their guards posted a negative defensive real plus-minus, according to ESPN.

2018-19 DRPM

Name DRPM
Name DRPM
Danny Green 2.07
Alex Caruso 0.77
Troy Daniels -1.23
Avery Bradley -1.26
Rajon Rondo -1.38
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope -2.17
Quinn Cook -3.49
Stats courtesy of ESPN.com

If Caldwell-Pope can’t defend at a decent level next season, it’s going to be hard for head coach Frank Vogel to hide his reserve guards on the defensive end, and therefore hard to play them.

Alternatively, if Caldwell-Pope can defend, he’ll see a good amount of playing time with the first and second units because of how poor the other guards are on defense. Hopefully playing under defensive coaches like Vogel and Lionel Hollins will bring the best out of KCP.

As for his shooting, he showed signs of life towards the tail end of the season. Through the final 20 games of the season, Caldwell-Pope shot 35.5% from behind the arc on a team-high 7.8 attempts per game. During that time, he converted 41.1% of his catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts (5.4 attempts per game). It’s a small sample size, yes, but it was a good note for him to end the season on nonetheless.

However, the biggest reason to be optimistic about Caldwell-Pope on offense is Vogel. If Vogel commits to building his offense around LeBron James (as he should), Caldwell-Pope will have an opportunity to fill a similar role to one guards like J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Mario Chalmers have excelled in previously.

At 26 years old, Caldwell-Pope probably could have played starters minutes on a lowly team like the Charlotte Hornets or Memphis Grizzlies next season, but with the Lakers, he’ll get the chance to show his value on a contending team, which is more likely to get him paid in 2020 than putting up inflated numbers on a bad roster.

Will he buy into that role? Only time will tell, but he definitely has the skill set for it, which makes him one of the top-10 most interesting players on the roster as a result.

The countdown so far...

20. Aric Holman

19. Jordan Caroline

18. Devontae Cacok

17. Kostas Antetokounmpo

16. Zach Norvell Jr.

15. Troy Daniels

14. Rajon Rondo

11. (tie) The 15th roster spot

11. (tie) Talen Horton-Tucker

11. (tie) Jared Dudley

10. Quinn Cook

9. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @RadRivas.