Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has decided to take the plunge and enter the NBA Draft. We enjoyed watching him develop and play, and he’s given us no shortage of great moments in his two seasons. He’s been an ideal representative for the University. Selfishly I would’ve loved for him to stay another year. Not that it matters, but I think he made the right call.
Would Caldwell-Pope had improved with another year? He definitely had things to work on. His ball-handling sometimes caused him problems. He could be better at driving rather than settling for the jumpshot (but if you could shoot like he can, you’d take the jumper too.) He wasn’t much of a threat to leave after his freshman season, but his decision to stay paid off: he became a much more complete player with improved defense and patience to go along with the shot that was there from the beginning. I can believe that it was a tough decision. If he improved this much from a year ago, what would one more year do?
It’s not as clear that another season would have paid the same dividends. He’d be working on growth in some specific areas against defenses whose first priority would be to deny him the ball. We had already started to see some of this by the end of the season, but it didn’t take much scouting to figure out that you could dedicate one or even two defenders exclusively to locking down KCP. To his credit, and to our amazement, he still put up impressive numbers. Still, that defensive strategy led to stretches and entire halves in which KCP struggled to score, and it was all the rest of the team could do to stay in the game until KCP found his stride.
With Georgia’s outlook and personnel for next season roughly unchanged, it had to be easy for Caldwell-Pope to envision an entire season that looked like the last month of the 2012-2013 season. He’d be harassed as the primary target for every opposing defense – nothing new, but also not particularly fun. It’s reasonable that he’d put up similar numbers, but that’s not the kind of growth that would elevate him from his current draft outlook to a sure lottery pick. It’s hard to focus on specific elements of your game when the team finds itself in survival mode night after night and needs you to score by any means necessary.
Caldwell-Pope leaves Georgia as the reigning SEC Player of the Year. With even a comparable season it’s less likely that his stock would be as high as it is now. He’d have the benefit of instant name recognition, but the competition might be tougher to repeat as SEC POY. Eight SEC schools have signed members of ESPN’s top 100 prep players, and Kentucky’s class alone will produce several likely candidates. He’s going out on top, at least individually.
Of course his departure will affect next year’s team. The Dawgs struggled to put points on the board even with KCP on the court. The funny thing is that his position, shooting guard, is one of the deeper and more talented spots on the roster for Georgia. Kenny Gaines had his moments as a freshman, and incoming guard Juwan Parker is a 6’4″ scorer. But while we can expect important contributions from both Gaines and Parker, it’s asking a lot for either to become a 15+ PPG player right away. Georgia must still deal with a limited skill set on offense among the frontcourt players, and that’s where the biggest gains would have happen. You need guys like Morris, Williams, and a healthy Thornton to step up. You need Djurisic to be more consistent. The Dawgs can still sign up to two players during the spring, and they might even dip back into the JUCO ranks as they did with Florveus.