25-under-25: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at No. 23

EL SEGUNDO, CA- JULY 18: President of Basketball Operations, Magic Johnson and General Manager, Rob Pelinka introduce Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
EL SEGUNDO, CA- JULY 18: President of Basketball Operations, Magic Johnson and General Manager, Rob Pelinka introduce Kentavious Caldwell-Pope /

The Step Back is rolling out its 25-under-25 list over the next two days. Follow along with our rankings of the top 25 players under the age of 25.

After four years of good-but-not-great basketball with the Pistons, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope joined the Lakers in restricted free agency. Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka compared the arrival of the former Pistons’ lottery pick as bread falling from the heavens.

Certainly flattered by the comments of Pelinka — because, well, bread is awesome, especially if it falls from the sky during overblown press conferences — Caldwell-Pope begins the next chapter of his basketball career playing for the new Showtime Lakers.

Well, that’s the idea, right? Pelinka and Lakers great turned executive Magic Johnson are about to make the Lakers competitive again. The way that they are doing this is simple: get a slimmer, younger version of Kevin Durant to get buckets at small forward and have the next Jason Kidd pass Caldwell-Pope the rock while his overbearing shoe salesman father barks at everyone at Staples Center to stay in their lane.

Caldwell-Pope may have averaged 11.7 points in his four-year run with the Pistons, but head coach Stan Van Gundy wished he was a more accurate jump shooter. While Caldwell-Pope makes roughly a third of his attempts from the perimeter, he is below the Russell Westbrook Line of converting those opportunities. Caldwell-Pope didn’t even make 40 percent of his total shots last year, finishing at 40.5 percent in four years in Auburn Hills.

Even so, Caldwell-Pope proved in Detroit that he can be a valuable rotation player and a fifth starter on a halfway decent basketball team.

So here’s to new beginnings for Caldwell-Pope in Los Angeles. He gets to go to an organization that is on the rise in the Lakers. Detroit might be moving into Pizza! Pizza! Arena with the Red Wings, but the Pistons aren’t a playoff team in 2017-18. Not to say that the Lakers are either — the West is brutal — but this could be a juggernaut in a year’s time if someone takes their talents to Hollywood. Welcome to the Jungle. We’ve got tampering!

Caldwell-Pope gets to join a team with a potential go-to scorer at the three in Brandon Ingram and a pass-first point guard savant in Lonzo Ball. He’ll be sandwiched between the pair out on the wing. This is great for his continued growth, as Caldwell-Pope won’t be asked to be the Lakers’ go-to scorer in crunch time. That happened far too often in Motown, especially when center Andre Drummond had to ride pine late because he couldn’t make half his free throws.

Essentially, the Pistons thought the former SEC Player of the Year out of Georgia was going to be the second perennial All-Star to be coming out of Athens. Caldwell-Pope will never dominate offensively like Dominique Wilkins did, but he can be a highly effective role player on an improving team in the West.

Coming over from Detroit, Caldwell-Pope has certainly learned how to play defense. That’s what you do when Van Gundy yells at you during practice. Defense will be an added bonus to the versatile scoring ability of Caldwell-Pope now that he’s playing for the Lakers, a team that finished last in the league last season in defensive efficiency.

What the Lakers are basically hoping is that Caldwell-Pope will be a better version of Jordan Clarkson for them moving forward. He may never be the volume 3-point shooters Lou Williams or Nick Young are, but Caldwell-Pope is the sort of 3-and-D wing the Lakers need to make the lives of their younger players a lot easier. His defensive prowess will help Ingram slowly grow into his role as a lockdown defender by relieving him of having to guard the best offensive player and his ability to spot-up on the perimeter will give Ball and Brook Lopez more room to run pick-and-rolls.

Though he was clearly not another brick in Van Gundy’s wall, Caldwell-Pope is manna from heaven to Pelinka. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure apparently. Caldwell-Pope should get better playing around better players. Ball and Ingram have higher upside than him. Maybe their potential greatness makes Caldwell-Pope take his game to new heights?

Next: 25-under-25 -- The best young players in the NBA

By having other offensive talents around him and guys that will bang on the glass in Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr., we might see Caldwell-Pope play like he did for the Dawgs once again. He had a bunch of terrible suitors in his restricted free agency. While the Pistons didn’t want him back, the Lakers welcomed him with open arms. That should matter. Los Angeles looks to be the place where Caldwell-Pope will have the most fun playing NBA basketball.