The case for and against the Orlando Magic signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Orlando Magic fans had big dreams for grabbing a headline-stealing name in free agency. The Magic may take a more conservative approach and look to add a shooter at a big number.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has built a reputation as a plus 3-and-D player. But he could get a godfather contract offer that will heap even more expectations on him.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has built a reputation as a plus 3-and-D player. But he could get a godfather contract offer that will heap even more expectations on him. / Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Free agency can be a funny thing.

For fans, it presents an opportunity to make some major headlines and add key players to the roster. For teams, it is their opportunity to improve the roster.

Sometimes those two visions for the offseason match, and sometimes they do not. Sometimes what the team thinks it needs to do to improve is not the star-studded, headline-grabbing move. And with the cap room the Magic have, it feels a bit disappointing to think smaller.

That is the position the Magic may find themselves in this summer. The dreams of a big name may quickly be shifting to the reality that the team is looking for something a bit smaller.

With Malik Monk off the board and interest in Paul George and Klay Thompson seemingly waning, Jake Fischer of Yahoo! Sports reported the Magic may look to send a short-term big-money offer to players lower on the free agency board.

That does not make it any less impactful though. That does not mean they could not add someone who will shape the offense and address needs.

The Orlando Magic have had some connection to Denver Nuggets wing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope throughout the offseason.

On the surface, Caldwell-Pope checks many boxes as a player with a strong defensive reputation and excellent 3-point shooting. That he has done it for a championship-level team like the Denver Nuggets (and Los Angeles Lakers) is only an added bonus.

If the Magic are not going to go after one of the big names fans have on their wishlist, Caldwell-Pope is one of the best shooters on the market. He checks off the box for his positional size, defensive acumen and three-point shooting. He does not have the playmaking that the Magic perhaps need—he is not the table-setter everybody believes the Magic want and need.

That does not even get into the price or the cap strategy it would take to entice him. And whether that is even worth it.

Orlando may take a more conservative tack to its free agency and Caldwell-Pope appears to be the target on that track.

The case for signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Everything for the Orlando Magic starts with their shooting. Everyone knows that creating some spacing and increasing their 3-point volume (not to mention their percentage) will be the key to unlocking and improving the offense.

That is why shooting is almost a requirement among the players the Magic are looking at.

That is the one thing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope does exceedingly well. And has done throughout his entire career.

Last year for the Denver Nuggets, Caldwell-Pope averaged 10.1 points per game and shot 40.6 percent from three. He is a career 36.9 percent shooter from three, but he has shot better than 40 percent in three of the past four seasons.

Caldwell-Pope though is not the typical 3-and-D shooter. He shot only 38.3 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, according to data from Second Spectrum (Gary Harris was at 37.0 percent, for some reference). He was actually much better on pull-up 3-pointers, hitting 45.1 percent (albeit on less than 1.0 attempts per game).

He was an excellent corner 3-point shooter, hitting 43.0 percent from the corners.

Caldwell-Pope did all this while shooting 4.1 3-point attempts per game. Considering the Nuggets were the only team to take fewer 3-point attempts than the Magic, that suggests there is something close to a 1-to-1 translation. This is the volume the Magic could expect.

Caldwell-Pope provides a ton of versatility on the defensive end. That is really where he makes his name for the Nuggets.

Denver had a 111.0 defensive rating with Caldwell-Pope on the floor—1.3 points per 100 possessions better than the team's average and trailing only Nikola Jokic among Nuggets' starters. Explaining that last stat probably explains why this is not always the best measure of an individual's defense.

But clearly, Caldwell-Pope helps prop up Denver's defense. He was the player who defended the best wing players for the Nuggets. And he could defend all three perimeter positions, giving him the defensive versatility a team like the Magic crave.

Caldwell-Pope would also bring to the Magic a level of experience that a young team needs.

Caldwell-Pope is a two-time NBA champion, winning with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2020 and the Denver Nuggets in 2023.

The case against Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

On its face, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope does feel like a player who would fit everything the Orlando Magic need. He has an excellent reputation as a defender. He is an excellent 3-point shooter. He has good size and versatility to slide in and defend anywhere and anyone on the perimeter.

But there are a lot of holes to poke in the equation.

Caldwell-Pope only averaged 10.1 points per game, continuing a decline from the 13.2 points per game he averaged with the Washington Wizards in 2022. He is a shooter, but not an excellent spot-up shooter—hitting only a slightly better percentage from three than Gary Harris did.

And he did not even take that many more attempts at 4.1 per game (Harris was at 3.8 per game). Considering the Denver Nuggets were the only team to take fewer 3-point attempts than the Orlando Magic last year, that is the number the Magic likely would expect him to shoot in a Magic uniform.

That is the thing then, Caldwell-Pope does not check off so many of the boxes that the Magic need skill-wise—especially for the cost of signing him.

He is not a meaningfully better shooter than what the Magic had last year. And he is not a volume shooter who will command the defense's attention at all times.

Caldwell-Pope is a 3-and-D player. He is not going to do much with the ball besides shoot or move it to the next option within the offense. That is the unfortunate reality of a player like Caldwell-Pope.

He averaged only 1.9 drives per game last year, according to data from Second Spectrum. His 2.5 drives per 75 possessions were in the 32nd percentile, according to Basketball Index. He is a below average passer for a player in his role. He averaged only 14.31 potential assists per 100 possessions, slightly above the league median.

That obviously was not his role with the Denver Nuggets playing with decisionmakers like Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon. Caldwell-Pope was the fifth starter who got the ball rotated to him rather than creating for others.

But another creator is clearly something the Magic need. And without the benefit of increased volume from Caldwell-Pope is it hard to see him as a viable option for the Magic. Or better as the premiere, big-money player the Magic should add.

The Bruce Brown idea is a good one, but not for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

The going thought for the Orlando Magic is that they are looking to put a lot of their money into a short-term deal like the Indiana Pacers did last year when they signed Bruce Brown to a two-year, $45 million (with a team option on the second year). That was a bet on a still-young wing who played a key part of a championship team.

There is at least some reporting to suggest the Magic have done that with Klay Thompson. There is some suggestion they may line up to give Kentavious Caldwell-Pope a similar kind of deal if that is the way they would like to proceed.

In either case, Caldwell-Pope is looking for a major payday to leave the confines of the championship-contending Nuggets. He is looking for a contract likely starting near $20 million (and certainly more than the $15.4 million he would opt out of). For a Bruce Brown-type deal, he would probably be looking at a $25 million contract.

That is certainly one way to spend the Magic's salary cap space.

But that is not going to be an effective use of that cap space. Especially since it does not seem like Caldwell-Pope will meaningfully address any of the Magic's needs other than adding a veteran with championship experience and a reputation shooter.

Orlando could find someone shooting at his volume who fills other important needs—particularly the playmaking need—elsewhere in players like Buddy Hield or Gary Trent Jr. (even if they are not the same quality of defender).

Next. Magic Free agent Center 06.22.24. Ranking the top available free agent centers. dark

To say the least, making Caldwell-Pope the team’s premiere offseason acquisition at this stage of the team's development and with this opportunity to spend would be a massive disappointment. Even if the Magic are not out in free agency to get the headlines, this would feel like a major wasted opportunity.