Coach Frank Vogel and the Los Angeles Lakers faced a huge dilemma weeks before the resumption of the 2019-20 NBA season when one of their regular starters, veteran shooting guard Avery Bradley, chose to not rejoin the team in Orlando. Since Bradley made the announcement, the Lakers immediately started looking for ways to fill the void his absence left on their roster. During the league’s transaction window, the Lakers signed LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers teammate J.R. Smith to boost their wing depth, but he isn’t expected to be Vogel’s No. 1 option to replace Bradley in their starting lineup.
In a recent conference call with reporters, Vogel talked about several topics, including plans for the nearing resumption of the 2019-20 NBA season. With more than two weeks left before they play against the Los Angeles Clippers, Vogel revealed that he and his coaching staff are making a careful analysis regarding the player that would be joining James, Anthony Davis, Danny Green, and JaVale McGee in the starting lineup. Though they are yet to make an official decision, Vogel said that veteran shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is currently making a strong case to be promoted to a starting role.
“We’ll always have an open competition, especially when we have practices. We’ve got two weeks before our first scrimmage, and there’s still another 17 days before our first game.” Vogel said, as quoted by Christian Rivas of SB Nation’s Silver Screen and Roll. “But Kentavious Caldwell-Pope did a phenomenal job when Avery was injured. That’s really where I’m at in terms of what the starting lineup is going to look like, with him being in that slot. Obviously we’ll see how things go throughout practice, and other guys will have opportunities.”
It would no longer be a surprise if Vogel really decides to replace Bradley with Caldwell-Pope in the starting lineup. Before the NBA went on a hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, Vogel was using Caldwell-Pope as his primary backup for Bradley. In the 20 games he started when Bradley suffered an injury, the Lakers posted a 17-3 record. Meanwhile, in the 253 minutes Caldwell-Pope played with the core of James, Davis, Green, and McGee, the Lakers posted a net rating of plus-3.4.
Caldwell-Pope may not be as good as Bradley on the defensive end of the floor, but the Lakers were playing better offensively when he was on the court. As Rivas noted, the Lakers were three points better per 100 possessions on offense with Caldwell-Pope in the starting lineup in place of Bradley, mainly because of the former’s three-point efficiency. While Bradley concluded the season averaging 36.4 percent from beyond the arc, Caldwell-Pope was hitting 39.4 percent of his three-point attempts.
Vogel and the Lakers’ coaching staff must be aware that Caldwell-Pope couldn’t perfectly replicate Bradley’s performance on both ends of the floor. However, as of now, they must figure out how they could turn Caldwell-Pope into a better defender while also seeing how to maximize his offensive potential while playing alongside James, Davis, Green, and McGee.