The 2020-21 season is off to a solid start for the Los Angeles Lakers. The purple and gold have a league-best 12-4 record and are fresh off of a statement win over the Milwaukee Bucks. The defending champions are title-favorites for a reason and they have proven that through 16 games.
In many ways, the Lakers have been even better than anticipated. Our own Luca De Angelis broke down three reasons why this season’s Lakers are better than their predecessor and the proof is in the pudding.
The Lakers are better on an individual basis as well. Several players have been playing out of their mind to start the season, even if Anthony Davis and LeBron James have been noticeably playing at a set cruise control.
This improved play on an individual level has given the Los Angeles Lakers something that non enough NBA pundits are talking about: the two best three and D role players in the entire league. We know how important this player mold is in the NBA Playoffs and nobody in the league has a single three and D role player that is better than the two the Lakers have.
At least, that is what the numbers suggest.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso give the Los Angeles Lakers the best three and D role players in the league.
This would have been silly to say before the season started. We all knew how talented KCP is but to put him among the best in the league just did not make sense before the season. As far as Caruso is concerned, he is a great defensive player and always has been, but has not been the most prominent three-point shooter.
Both guys have started the 2020-21 season shooting the cover off of the basketball. Granted, averages tend to dip as the season goes along, but the insane rate at which these two have shot through 20 percent of the season indicates that they will both probably finish with elite three-point shooting percentages.
Caruso and KCP rank second and third, respectively, in three-point percentage this season among players with at least 28 attempts (that is how many Caruso has). The only player that has shot better is Seth Curry.
Caruso (57.1%) and KCP (56.9%) are one of 10 players to be shooting above 50% from beyond the arc this season. A total of 26 players are shooting above 45% thus far.
So what about the defensive side of the basketball? As noted above, there are a good number of players that are shooting the ball pretty well to start the season.
Let’s take a look at the league’s Defensive Box Plus/Minus rankings. DBPM is far from a perfect defensive statistic but it does give a good estimation of who is proficient on the defensive end, and who is not.
Among those same players with 28 three-pointers attempted, Caruso ranks first in DPBM at 3.1 while KCP ranks 19th with a 1.1. They are two of the 22 total players with a DPBM above one.
Defensive rating tells a similar story. Caruso ranks fifth with a 102 defensive rating and KCP ranks 16th with a 106 defensive rating. Bottom line: Caruso and KCP are both really good defensive players.
It is clear that the Los Angeles Lakers’ role players are in a league of their own. They are the only two players in the league with a three-point percentage above 50% and a DPB above 1. We can significantly adjust the goalposts, but KCP and Caruso are still one of few.
Only six players have a three-point percentage above 40% with a DPBM above 1 (Caruso, KCP, Larry Nance, Chris Boucher, Pat Connaughton and Royce O’Neale). Caruso ranks first in defensive rating among those six, KCP ranks fourth.
Not only are they the best in the league right now, but Caruso and KCP are on a historic pace. In the history of the NBA, only 5 players have put together a season with a three-point percentage above 45% and a DPBM above 1.0 — with at least 2.5 threes attempted per game (Caruso averages 2.5 per game, KCP averages 4.3).
Based on how these two have started, it is absolutely fair to expect them both to join that list — a list that includes Jon Barry, Stephen Curry, George Hill and Jameer Nelson. Nelson only played 42 games, Hill only 59.
It is a weird assortment of names, but wouldn’t that be the perfect list for Alex Caruso and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to join?