Position: Shooting Guard
Expected draft position: 16-25
College career: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope stomached some high expectations after committing to his hometown school of Georgia, being the first McDonalds All-American to do so since 1992. The decision may have taken the spotlight away from him in his two years in Athens, but it didn't make scouts forget he was a top-20 recruit out of high school with a tremendous ability to score.
Caldwell-Pope immediately stepped into a situation bereft of a fellow top scoring option. He was asked to shoulder the load offensively alongside seasoned point guard Gerald Robinson and to play the lion's share of minutes at the shooting guard position due to the team's lack of depth. Caldwell-Pope turned a rather destitute situation into a mildly successful freshman season, leading the team in minutes played, rebounds and steals, while coming second in points. The Bulldogs still finished 10th in the SEC, but Caldwell-Pope did enough to merit some draft talk.
Caldwell-Pope took home SEC player of the Year honors in his sophomore season, as he led the conference in PER and win shares while upping his true shooting percentage from 49 percent as a freshman to an impressive 58 percent. He played in one of the more dysfunctional offenses in the country, which forced him into several bail out situations a night that often resulted in contested threes or inefficient jumpers right inside the three-point line. Georgia would run him off flare screens or pin downs tirelessly to set up long jumper after long jumper, which made the team almost unbearable to watch. This doesn't dismiss all of the early-in-the-shot-clock threes he'd attempt or the pull-ups in transition, but any scorer would wilt under these circumstances.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope Draft Combine Interview (via DraftExpress)
Offense: You don't want to ever put the blame solely on the team, especially as it pertains to an individual's shot selection. There were plenty of times where I just shook my head over KCP roaming aimlessly around the perimeter, waiting for the ball to be thrown in his direction so he could launch up a long jumper.
On the other hand, what incentive did he have to do much else? He knew his teammates would struggle to do any better, and the chances of him getting a better look weren't as great as they're made out to be. This is where the lack of creativity hurts him. He doesn't have many advanced dribbles to get to the hoop, and he often made it tougher on himself by dribbling sideline to sideline before hoisting up a jumper. He was a master of making the most insanely difficult shots, but that's not always a good thing. Moving without the ball, getting into the lane and making the extra pass/hockey assist are all devoid in his game right now.
Coaching plays a major role here too, and it's up to talent evaluators to assay just how much a competent coach would accelerate Caldwell-Pope's development, but there seems to be a general lack of understanding of the game, to be blunt. He's a substandard ball handler that struggles to read where the help is coming from and when to swing the ball. Teams would crack down on this by trapping him in pick and roll situations, which would then be proceeded by a turnover or him picking up his dribble. He would rarely turn the corner on screens, opting for the jumper instead. There were a lot of wasted dribbles that rarely netted a positive result, but again, you can't help to think the situation got the best of him.
Caldwell-Pope is capable of some highlight-worthy, acrobatic finishes at the rim. Those finishes came few and far between (just 21 percent of his offense came at the rim), yet his explosiveness and athleticism should make life a lot easier as he begins to develop his ball handling and court vision.
However, there's a lot to love about the rest of his offensive repertoire. He has one of the best jab steps in the country, and he follows it up with a really quick first step. Most of his offense comes from his one- or two-dribble pull ups, which he's continuously learning to limit in order to stray away from his telegraphed nature. He shows great balance, using myriad ball fakes and jab steps to get his defender out of position, taking one or two dribbles before gathering himself and elevating over his man for the shot. It's a real treat to watch, and his quick release makes him a real threat in transition when he goes to pull up.
As a nice change of pace, he's turned into a very dependable spot-up shooter and has put in a lot of work to improve his catch and shoot game off screens. Should he develop any semblance of a floor game, he'd work extremely well as a slasher.
Defense: Caldwell-Pope is a notably-tenacious defender that is capable of taking a player completely out of his comfort zone. His high motor is a bit of a double-edged sword. It helps when he's always actively playing passing lanes and crashing the boards, but his lack of understanding when it comes to positioning and team defense can be a detriment more often than not. He gets caught overplaying his man and loses track of the ball on occasion.
Pro potential/Wizards fit: Prospects who are great athletes and good shooters off the dribble will always have a home in the NBA, and teams are constantly hankering for one in the first round. His combination of shooting and athleticism is rivaled by only two others at his position in this draft, which will surely do wonders for his draft stock up until draft night. Certainly there will be a team willing to take a flier on him for the sole purpose of finding out how much untapped potential really made it out of that train wreck of a situation down in Georgia.
I'm generally weary of players with low basketball IQ's that have a penchant for putting up shots without much deliberation, but Caldwell-Pope's situation is incredibly hard to read.
Caldwell-Pope looks the part of a shooter and possible microwave off the bench that the Wizards desperately need, but do the pros outweigh the cons? Is it worth trading back into the first round to find out? It seems pretty evident when watching him that he doesn't have the greatest feel for the game, but his knack for scoring is profoundly tough to pass up on. I wouldn't target him exclusively, but if the pieces do fall in place, it's hard passing on someone who could impact this team from the get-go.