How Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has saved his season with the Los Angeles Lakers

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Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images)

If you scanned NBA Twitter during the early portion of the Los Angeles Lakers’ season, you probably saw a considerable amount of slander aimed in the direction of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for his shaky shooting performances and dubious on-court decisions.

Caldwell-Pope had a dismal start to the year, and from the start of the season until about the middle of November, the jokes flew at a rapid rate anytime the Lakers made an appearance on national TV.

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While harsh (and somewhat funny), it would be hard to argue that the ridicule wasn’t justified. Through the Lakers’ first 11 games of the season, Caldwell-Pope made 5-22 three-pointers, good enough for 22%. He was coughing up the ball, at times getting shredded defensively by bigger wings and missing point-blank layups (as seen above).

KCP has always been billed as a two-way marksman tasked with giving the three-point starved Lakers a boost from downtown, but he wasn’t getting the job done. Nobody in the NBA sucks at basketball, but it was clear that Caldwell-Pope was struggling to adjust to his newly prescribed bench role.

When Avery Bradley went down with a hairline fracture in his right leg, it created a pathway for Caldwell-Pope to regain his footing and find success with the Lakers, and his shooting start sizzling once inserted into the starting lineup.

Since Bradley went down for a 13-game stretch on Nov. 15, Caldwell-Pope has shot 48% from downtown. What’s even better is that it doesn’t matter if he’s pegged to either start or come off the bench, he’s been cashing out threes at an eye-popping clip.

KCP has started 18 games over that span of time, and although he’s been a reserve in Los Angeles’ last eight contests, he’s shooting 60% on three-pointers. Yes, that number is unsustainable, but it’s encouraging to see Caldwell-Pope’s percentages escape from the doldrums they were once in at the start of this regular season campaign.

Caldwell-Pope has drilled 15 three-pointers off the bench in the eight games since Christmas Day, tied for third-best amongst reserves. At 46% from the field and 43% from three, KCP is on pace to have the most prolific shooting season of his career.

In the Lakers’ 13 games since Dec. 12, KCP has failed to notch double-digits only three times. It also cannot be discounted that Caldwell-Pope has proven to be durable. He’s appeared in every game for Los Angeles this season, and he’s appeared in at least 74 games each year in his tenure with the Purple & Gold.

Not only has KCP reached a new level of lethality from downtown, but he also remains one of the Lakers’ strongest defenders. He never shies away from having to navigate over screens, he’s often in the mix for loose balls and hustle plays are routine for him.

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Having role players that understand how paramount it is to set the tone by doing the little things is key for championship-hopeful teams, and this Lakers roster understands that. It’s hard to imagine that Caldwell-Pope’s confidence didn’t teeter during his shooting storm, but the belief of his teammates never wavered.

“I’ve got real brothers in the locker room,” Caldwell-Pope said. “They helped me get through it. Even though it was a lot on myself, they helped me get through it. I have a bunch of guys who have been through that, especially that No. 1 guy has been through that — LeBron (James) has been through criticism his whole career. So he talked to me a little bit. ‘There’s nothing to worry about. Just play.’ ”

If one of our brothers is going through a difficult time, we pick him up,” (LeBron) James said. “And we let him know we’re right there in the foxhole with him, and that’s just what we were telling KCP early on when he was struggling with his shot or struggling with his play. ‘

When asked what he did to cope with his early-season shooting woes, Caldwell-Pope said he “prayed a lot.” It must be calming to know that he’s no longer drawing the aimed ire of Lakers fans, as many have come to appreciate both his efforts and improved performance.

KCP’s recent play has been a personal reassertion. He’s become an intrinsic piece in the Lakers’ current championship puzzle. It will be interesting to see if Caldwell-Pope is viewed as indispensable as the trade deadline draws nearer and rumors continue to swirl about Los Angeles looking to add another piece to give their title chase a boost.

In the meantime, the Lakers will continue to enjoy Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s improved three-point accuracy and tenacity on the defensive end as they rack up wins and add to their lead as the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed.

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