Denver Nuggets Film Friday: The KCP effect

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Denver Nuggets
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re not familiar with Film Fridays, each Friday, I’ll be looking at some recent Denver Nuggets’ games, lineups or something else from a film aspect to try and bring you a piece of content that you’re not getting somewhere else. Feel free to give any feedback positive or negative in the comments or find me on Twitter.

This offseason, following the departure of former President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly, Calvin Booth was in charge of a team that was at a bit of a crossroads. They had the talent to compete with the best teams on a nightly basis, but they were coming up short at the end of the season when it mattered most. Some of that could be attributed to injuries or youth, but Booth wasn’t content to sit on his laurels. Instead, he made a move that irked some fans because he could see the bigger picture of what the move meant.

Although the move couldn’t be finalized for another week, the Nuggets announced a trade on June 29th to trade away franchise stalwarts Will Barton and Monte Morris to the Washington Wizards in exchange for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith. The move was met with some backlash from fans, but, again, Booth could see the bigger picture of what this move was meant to accomplish.

Between Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon and Bones Hyland, among others on the roster, the team had plenty of scoring options, but they needed more guys to fill in the cracks. That is where KCP can fit in. Back in the bubble with the Los Angeles Lakers, he was a key cog in a team that went on to win the team’s first title in 10 years while playing alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. While he may not be able to take over a game like Barton could at times, Caldwell-Pope is going to bring something different to the floor.

Off-Ball Work

How do you succeed in a system that’s centered around a player like Jokic? You make sure that you don’t need the ball in your hands to make plays. Gary Harris was the prime example of this. He could put up points here and there as an on-ball scorer, but he made his bread playing without the ball in his hands as a slasher and shooter. KCP should thrive in that role, which is one Denver hasn’t really had over the last season and a half.

Are the Boston Celtics up by 21 in the third quarter of a game that ultimately didn’t matter? Yes. Did KCP still catch Jayson Tatum, who was one of the key pieces of a team that led the league in defensive rating, sleeping on the wing? Yes. He’s a step or two back from the 3-point line. There are a ton of bodies between him and the ball-handler, so he knows a pass is unlikely. However, as soon as he catches Tatum looking the wrong way, he cuts to the rim for the reverse layup. That split-second decision led to the easy two points.

There’s nothing complex about this play, but how many times have we seen this exact scenario with Jokic as the ball-handler? He’s backing his man down in the post. The help defender slides over, and he hits the open shooter. Rui Hachimura is backing his man down when KCP’s defender slides over to try and help on him. When that happens, Caldwell-Pope slides to his right, and he puts himself open for the easy triple. If KCP does just that on offense, he’ll be thriving in Denver.

Defensive IQ

The main thing that I love about this play is getting to see the wheels turning and seeing it all click together when KCP makes his move. As soon as the ball-handler gets the ball at the top of the key, Caldwell-Pope recognizes what’s happening and fires towards where the passing lane is going to be. He gets the steal and goes down for the big dunk that ultimately ices the game with under four minutes remaining.

There was a surprisingly high number of plays like this to choose from. Player X is driving towards the basket, and, even if Kentavious is in a disadvantageous spot, he has the veteran savvy to knock the ball away. On this particular play, Jordan Poole catches the ball in the corner. KCP switches onto him to prevent the 3-point attempt. He slides with him along the baseline as he drives towards the rim, and he knocks the ball away just before Poole goes up for the layup. Unfortunately, the Golden State Warriors get the rebound because of the way the ball rolls, but he does everything he can to keep that ball inbounds.

For those of you that are still here, remember to leave your feedback in the comments or over on my Twitter, and have a fantastic film-filled Friday.

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