Mateo’s Hoop Diary: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope signing pushes the Magic over the Heat

The Orlando Magic have surpassed the Miami Heat as the top team in Florida with the addition of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the sharpshooting, defensive ace. He leaves the Denver Nuggets after two seasons, registering 313 trifectas, 253 steals and 95 blocks combined between the regular campaign and Playoffs.

In year one as a Denver Nugget, the two-way guard instantly became the release valve on the perimeter, downing open trays. His screen navigation bought Nikola Jokić, a reputable weak defender before 2022, the spare moment to get into position, and the latter stopped being a liability. And the Pope also brought leadership- during the Playoff run, he wore his championship ring with the Los Angeles Lakers to inspire his teammates and keep them focused on the mission.

That quest ended with the Nuggets as champions. KCP was the sixth leading scorer (10.6) in the postseason and converted 38% of 3-point attempts. One of his finest moments of the ride was Game 4 of the Finals at Miami. He had three takeaways, blocked Bam Adebayo’s layup as a helper and rejected Jimmy Butler on a post-up with over five minutes left.

The Nuggets wanted to re-sign him, but at their end-of-the-season presser, hinted it wouldn’t be easy. President and owner Josh Kroenke said, “the core of this team was assembled under a different CBA, and we drafted and we developed, and we built this team under a different set of rules.”

Nuggets coach Michael Malone once called KCP the missing piece.

Life without him will stress the starters. The squad has no replacement that matches his defensive persistence and marksmanship.

But now he wears Magic blue and supplements a 47-win group.

In 2023-24, Orlando deployed the third-strongest defense, had Paolo Banchero break out into an All-Star and capped out at Game 7 in the first round against the Cavaliers in Cleveland. Also, the Magic’s defensive rating (100) through seven Playoff matches was the sharpest of 16 qualifying teams. On top of that, they recorded 35.2% of hoisted threes through 82 outings and 30.9% against the Cavaliers.

KCP is a perfect match for the Magic. He and Jalen Suggs’ stinginess on the perimeter would rouse medieval lords. His deep shooting will enhance his teammates, particularly Banchero, because rival defenses won’t be able to trap low off the sniper.

So how do the Magic compare and contrast with the Heat?

Orlando’s backcourt- Suggs and KCP- is mightier defensively than Miami’s Tyler Herro and Terry Rozier. The former are more accurate from deep, too.

The shot creator category slightly favors Miami. The Heat have Butler, who can get what he wants against most matchups, and Adebayo fits here because of his rim attacks, screening and handoff action. The Magic have Banchero and Franz Wagner. Both have big man size and a vast arsenal with moves off the dribble.

The backline defense edge goes to the Magic due to their mobile size. Even if the club loses Wendell Carter Jr, Jonathan Isaac can be pushed into the starting unit. Isaac would have been a serious candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year crown if he had logged seven more games to meet the requirement.

The Heat’s Adebayo is arguably the top disruptor in the NBA. His backline partners were Nikola Jović, Caleb Martin and Haywood Highsmith. Jović is a developing pupil with promise as a helper but lacks experience. Martin was effective handling switches but will likely leave in free agency. Highsmith, who is 6-foot-7, showed instances of dominating one-on-one and helping defense, yet his issue is that some matchups are too strong or too tall for him.

The bench advantage goes to the Heat. Jaime Jaquez Jr. should emerge as its primary scorer because of his advanced footwork. Duncan Robinson is a shooting stimulus, yet he is the wildcard if coach Erik Spoelstra wants to get creative. As a reserve, Robinson was decent, recording 11.1 points nightly on 36.2% accuracy from 3-point range. But as a starter, he was among the finest marksmen in the NBA, downing 42% on over seven tries. And veteran Kevin Love is coming back, providing quality board work and deep shooting.

The Magic declined Mo Wagner’s team option, making him an unrestricted free agent. Reportedly, talks of a new deal with Wagner are possible, but a new squad could and should scoop him up. He was impactful, throwing his weight around on the glass, disrupting actions, and was an irritant. And Cole Anthony is a mid-level reserve.

Coaching is even. Spoelstra overachieves with his units and is likely keeping trusted lieutenant Chris Quinn around.

In 2023-24, Magic coach Jamahl Mosley led his troops to a 13-win improvement over the previous campaign, which was the highest mark in the Eastern Conference. His 2022-23 band improved by a dozen victories after the 2021-22 season.

Key player attendance is on the side of the Magic. Banchero is a 1A who logged 80 matches last season. Suggs made Second Team All-Defense and suited up for 75 nights. The other top three starters in games played appeared in a combined 153.

The Heat’s starters fused 245 outings. Word on the street is Butler wants to have a bounce back season for a new deal next summer. That would mean raising his rim pressure frequency plus efficiency and showing up in at least 75 games. He has only hit the latter marker twice in his career since draft night.

Banchero and Butler are in the same tier, but the former gives his club a significant lead if he is playing 24% more of the season.

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1 reply
  1. Krwin
    Krwin says:

    Mateo’s Hoop Diary likely celebrates Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s signing as a game-changer for the Magic, tipping the scales against the Heat. He suggests strategic powers and team dynamics, reflecting on how player acquisitions can shift power dynamics in competitive basketball, setting the stage for exciting matchups ahead.


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