Los Angeles Lakers: KCP’s case to be their third-best player in the playoffs

The Los Angeles Lakers have a top-heavy hierarchy, but LeBron James and Anthony Davis can’t do it all in the NBA playoffs.

In the NBA playoffs, teams go as far as their best player (or two best players) can take them, and that’s without exception. There aren’t examples in league history of championship teams whose best players didn’t do the bulk of the heavy lifting, but even the best of the best can’t do it without help. The Los Angeles Lakers with LeBron James and Anthony Davis are no exception.

While the best two players on the roster are clear, it’s harder to tell who fills the gap as the next best on the roster. Ideally, Kyle Kuzma might be the third-best player on the Lakers, but he hasn’t stepped up with the kind of consistency required of a role like that in the high-leverage pressure of the NBA playoffs.

Avery Bradley has missed the entire bubble, Rajon Rondo has missed a large portion of it, Dwight Howard has been solid and reliable in stretches but if he’s your third-best player in 2020, you’ve made a colossal error somewhere in your championship pursuit.

Kuzma hasn’t been up to the challenge in the playoffs, at least not thus far. He’s shooting just 460 percent from the floor and 31.4 percent from 3-point range, and nobody will mistake him for a defensive stalwart. With Kuzma not up for the task, there’s a clear candidate for this accolade: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

That’s right, so far in the NBA playoffs, KCP has been the third-best player for the Los Angeles Lakers and it’s not particularly close. In addition to the reliable perimeter defense he’s been known for ever since his days with the Detroit Pistons, he’s been a consistent and dependable sharpshooter. KCP is shooting the cover off the ball from 3-point range, connecting on 42.7 percent of his shots and his effective field goal percentage is 57.6 percent.

KCP has been the perfect complement for the Los Angeles Lakers stars

While he provides absolutely no playmaking or rebounding (5.5 assist percentage and 3.9 rebounding percentage, numbers which are not zero but might as well be), he helps weaponize the Lakers’ offensive attack while he’s on the floor as a catch-and-shoot scorer alongside LeBron and AD.

Off the catch, per Synergy, KCP is scoring 1.438 points per possession (PPP), placing him in the 86th percentile. He’s absolutely lethal when he’s unguarded, scoring 1.588 PPP in 34 possessions. Considering the kind of shots LeBron James and Anthony Davis can get their teammates, it’s vital for them to knock them down when they get the opportunities and that’s exactly what Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been doing in the playoffs.

Of course, one of the best measures of a trio’s play together is how dominant they are against their opposition, and the Lakers are dominant indeed when LeBron, AD and KCP are on the floor together. In 537 playoff possessions, (a not-insignificant sample), they’re scoring 122.3 points per 100 possessions and allowing a paltry 105.2 points per 100.

The Lakers have had plenty of hardship in their backcourt since the bubble was conceived with Bradley opting to skip the NBA’s restart in order to take care of his family and Rondo missing time with an injury. The constant through it all has been Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and he’s helped elevate his superstar teammates in the NBA playoffs.