Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been one of the players vital to the Denver Nuggets rotation to start the 2022-23 season. He has been the starting two-guard known for his ability to shoot the ball, especially in catch-and-shoot scenarios, while his length projects him to be a great wing defender.
The Nuggets invested in players that can have a two-way presence and can create a kind of insurance for the defensive struggles of the Nuggets’ superstar core. With that in mind, Caldwell-Pope is completing the one part of the bargain so far as the Nuggets try to find their balance on the defensive side with eight new players on the roster.
As of now, Caldwell-Pope is averaging 11.8 points on 46.5/50/100 shooting splits along with 3.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists per 31.0 minutes through five regular season games with the Denver Nuggets. With that said, and with the hope that KCP’s injury in the last game against the Lakers is not serious, here are some positive takeaways for the veteran wing in his early days with the team.
KCP shooting the ball efficiently
The former Wizards and Lakers wing is getting his shots up in a reliable shooting clip during the first five games of the season. He’s taking the same number of shots he was attempting last season (5.2 attempts) from beyond the arc and making them in a 50 percent clip.
It’s almost certain that this number is not sustainable, but I believe that with a playmaker like Nikola Jokic on the floor, he will end up shooting better than the 39 percent he had last season with the Wizards. In my opinion, KCP can amp up his 3-point percentage to 41 percent, if he’s healthy through the regular season.
Evidently, the 2020 NBA champion has earned Michael Malone’s trust early in the 2022-23 season. He’s playing 31.1 minutes per contest through five games, second in the Nuggets’ roster behind Jokic. Joining a more talented team, his USG% dropped to 13.6 in contrast to the 18.5 he had last season.
However, he has set the tone with his efficiency so far by shooting 46.5 percent from the field and a 64.6 true shooting percentage. If he is able to keep his advanced shooting percentages up in the mid to high 50s, he will be a valuable asset for the Nuggets in their offensive schemes.
Therefore, the thing that jumps out from his stats in the first 5 games is his ability to make catch-and-shoot threes at a super-efficient clip. In particular, he’s making 57.1 percent of his 4.2 attempts per game. Via NBA.com, KCP has 2.0 wide-open threes per contest making them at a solid 60 percent clip.
With that said, KCP might be one of the luckiest players in the sense that the opponents are usually double-teaming Nikola Jokic. Therefore, the Joker will need to be more aggressive going forward, forcing the defenses to close on him and create open shots for the rest of the squad including Caldwell-Pope.
KCP, Denver Nuggets need to become a two-way menace
If the Denver Nuggets want to be considered legit contenders this season, they will have to amp up their intensity on the defensive end. In that case, the veteran wing will have to show his leadership on that side of the ball.
With him and Bruce Brown on the perimeter, the Nuggets are beginning to look more formidable on defense. In their three wins, Denver had a defensive rating of 107.6 points per 100 possessions, but they are experiencing inconsistencies.
KCP seems to play a big role in their improved defensive rating in those games, as Denver is allowing 119.3 points per 100 possessions for a net rating of minus-17.1 when the veteran forward/guard is sitting on the bench.
These numbers indicate that things do not work perfectly so far with the players coming off the bench. But, KCP can help plant the seeds for a better defense as one of the most experienced players on the roster and a former NBA champion.
As a result, he will also be crucial in helping the rest of the roster, especially the young guys, be integrated faster into Michael Malone’s defensive schemes. As of now, the Nuggets will need to improve their play and seasoned veterans like KCP will be important in the process.