• Dicky Fung

Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's Impact on the Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers didn’t make much noise in free agency this summer. After a huge draft in June in which they came away with Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kumza, Thomas Bryant, and Josh Hart, the Lakers stuck to their promise to not commit to long term deals. They are holding out on the main prize(s) next summer, to gather two of the marquee free agents with max deals.

The Laker fanbase is infatuated with Lonzo Ball right now, and with good reason. I’ve raved about Lonzo Ball since he’s been a Laker, and there’s a very good chance his skill set will bring him great success in the NBA.

However, these offseason additions have been vastly underrated.

Enter Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

Caldwell-Pope fits a need for the Lakers. He will be the starting shooting guard and his skill set is much needed. Three-point shooting and defense are his biggest strengths, as they happened to be the Lakers biggest weaknesses last season. He’s arguably the best shooting guard in Laker uniform since Kobe Bryant, and he has the prototypical shooting guard body to guard multiple positions, something Jordan Clarkson was unable to do due to size.

Caldwell-Pope has a repetition for being a hard-nose, on-ball defender and is a very good basketball player, from being a slasher to a legitimate 3-point threat. He has proven to be a starter on an NBA team. General Manager Rob Pelinka has said in June that the Lakers will tackle shooting this summer and they did just that. This past season, the 24-year-old KCP averaged 13.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists with Detroit while shooting a career-high 35.0 percent from three-point range. He also averaged 1.2 steals per game throughout his career.

Lonzo Ball will definitely look for him on the perimeter

He will be a solid shooting guard to put alongside Lonzo, as he can do a little bit of everything on offense in addition to his strong defensive ability. He will take the pressure off of Ball on a nightly basis by guarding the other team’s best backcourt player, which is something the Lakers have lacked in the past few years. This will also allow the Lakers to hide some of the glaring issues on the defensive end. As good as Lonzo Ball will be, he’s not ready to guard the Russell Westbrooks, or the John Walls in the NBA.

Opposing point guards in the NBA often licked their lips when they played the Lakers.

(Stats via RotoWire.com)

The anticipation, staying close to your man, running through screens, recovering to a close out is what Lakers fans will appreciate of KCP this season.

While he is a major upgrade for the Lakers, fans need to realize he was brought in to fill a need and set a culture. He’s not the saving grace or the X-factor to boost the Lakers playoff chances. He was brought in to fill a role in which the Lakers needed short term, and possibly long term depending on what the Lakers do in free agency next summer. Let’s not forget, KCP’s agent is notoriously no other than Rich Paul, the key in bringing LeBron James to Los Angeles.

Another addition people tend to forget was how the Lakers unloaded their prized asset in D’Angelo Russell and Timothy Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and Kyle Kumza (27th pick). People will look at this trade and see how this trade was about unloading Timothy Mozgov for salary purposes, or how D’Angelo Russell just never seemed ready to carry the torch Kobe Bryant left behind. The crazy thing people are not talking about is how good Brook Lopez actually is. Lost in the surprising trade and immediate analysis was the fact that the Lakers landed a 29-year-old center in his prime, who has surprising turned into a stretch center last season.

The Lakers haven’t had an All-Star caliber big man who could score down low since Pau Gasol, and no, I don’t consider Dwight Howard that guy. Lonzo Ball will enjoy playing alongside Lopez, because he’s a versatile scorer who has averaged above 50% from the field throughout his career. Lopez is a stabilizing presence on the low post, where he averaged at least 20 points per game in four of his nine seasons. Brook Lopez will fit like a glove for Luke Walton’s fast paced offense, as he has become a dangerous threat from 3-point land, averaging 1.8 shots made per game on a respectable 34%. Teams will have to honor that shot, which will allow the Lakers to spread the floor for Ball to work his magic.

Below is a chart of Brook Lopez’s shooting pattern in the past 5 seasons. In 2012–13, Lopez only went to the 3-point line only once. In 2013–14, he was still shy about letting it fly from deep. 2014 and 2015 were years of perhaps he was firing in desperation at the end of a shot clock. It wasn’t until this past season that Lopez really became a stretch center in this league, and became quite good at it.

(via NBASavant)

Lopez’s 3-point surge did not come fully without a sacrifice. The cost of this improvement was his rebounding. Last season, as his deep shooting exploded to 134 makes for the season, Lopez’s rebounding took a hit, declining by 2.4 total rebounds per game. His field goal percentage also suffered a bit, where he connected on 47%, the lowest in his career.

The Lakers desperately needed shooting this off season, and they found it in a center who knows how to score the ball and hit the open 3-pointer. Lonzo Ball will feast on the opportunities to get Lopez the ball. Brook Lopez could be very busy racking up easy points this season.

The Lakers are building a young core of up and coming stars, but are in need of seasoned veterans in order to be a watchable and exciting basketball product this season. Brook Lopez provides that, and more, even if the Lakers make one or two big acquisitions next summer. More importantly, despite of all the losing and trade rumors has always surfaced around Lopez, he has never let that affect his play. His level of professionalism has been on full display throughout his career.

The backcourt is where the Lakers had significant changes. They have a new starting duo in Ball and KCP. Jordan Clarkson will fill in as the sixth man off the bench, while Tyler Ennis was re-signed to help mentor Ball and provide minutes as the backup point guard. Brandon Ingram will look to develop into the franchise star the Lakers are hoping for, with Julius Randle and Brook Lopez manning the paint.

The Lakers will be fun to watch, where they will run up and down the floor to get easy transition buckets. However, in a loaded Western Conference, fans shouldn’t be thinking about playoffs just yet. As much as I enjoy the commentary from LaVar Ball, he’s going to have to hope both Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball have All-Star caliber years for the Lakers to even have a chance at the post season.

Training camp is near, Laker fans should be excited for a thrilling roller coaster ride type of season.

Think the Lakers can sniff the playoffs? Or will the Lakers have another down year? Let us know @otgbasketball & @fungo24 for everything basketball!

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