Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s numbers won’t blow you away by any stretch of the imagination when you look at them. Seven seasons into the NBA, Caldwell-Pope has averaged a shade over 11 points, close to two assists (1.6) and a little more than three rebounds a game. Not exactly Hall of Fame numbers.
But that’s not why the Los Angeles Lakers have Caldwell-Pope on their roster. He’s with the team because he plays solid defense and knocks down the long-range jumper whenever LeBron James and Anthony Davis need another sidekick scoring option. That’s been more than enough for the Lakers during this circular COVID-19 pandemic playoffs.
When Davis joined the Lakers after the team traded away Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and three first-round draft picks to the New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles became the de facto favorites to be one of the favorites to have a deep run into the postseason even though they missed out on the playoffs last season.
But even with James and Davis playing basketball on the same side, the Lakers still had to make sure they would be able to complement their superstar talent with the right players around them. One of those players happens to be Caldwell-Pope. Caldwell-Pope is considered to be an old vet. He’s been there and done that.
You might say that Caldwell-Pope has been around the block or two. His tenure with the Detroit Pistons, the team that drafted him, wasn’t magical. In his rookie season, Detroit achieved all of 29 victories. Caldwell-Pope spent the first four seasons of his career toiling in Detroit where he went from novice rookie to blossom into a decent scorer for the Pistons.
For the last three years, Caldwell-Pope has been firing away from 3-point range for the Lakers. But unlike the achievement train that the Lakers have been riding on this season as they try to chase down another NBA title, everything has not been rosy for the former University of Georgia star.
Caldwell-Pope has played on some not-so-good teams like the 2017-18 Lakers team that won just 26 games during the regular season.
“My first-year experience was great,” Caldwell-Pope said at the NBA Finals Media Day. “I came in ready to play. We had our ups and downs. It was a young team at the time. I think I was the third oldest on the team at the time. That year we were all still trying to figure each other out. It took a while, but things happen for a reason. Then as the years went along, the Lakers organization just built a team where it was a championship team, I feel like. Everybody that came in that year, my third year, actually this year, was ready and prepared for one goal. That really surprised me because you don’t get many teams like that.”
If there are a couple of words to describe Caldwell-Pope, the words resilient and determined come to mind. After battling through and overcoming some issues away from the court, Caldwell-Pope has come into his own as a key contributor for the Lakers. Game 1 of the 2020 NBA Finals was a perfect example of this.
With the Lakers down double-digits mid-way in the first quarter, Caldwell-Pope hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cut into a lead the Miami Heat had built. Caldwell-Pope would end up with 10 of his 13 points in the first period and the Lakers eventually ran away to a 116-98 win. In terms of momentum, Caldwell-Pope’s two treys turned out to be game-changers for the Lakers in Game 1.
“Just being ready to shoot and staying in a rhythm,” Caldwell-Pope said after the game. “Trying not to worry about how many shots I’m getting or how the flow of the game is going. Just being out there and playing my game. Playing defense and running the floor. Just knock down threes when the ball comes to me.”
Caldwell-Pope also talked about the team being mentally ready.
“As far as how the team has been able to focus, it’s just being mentally tapped in,” Caldwell-Pope said. “I feel like we as a team, Lakers organization, we came here for one goal, and we all just bought into that. We prepared ourselves. No matter what it took, we were going to do it. Just as far as being around each other, it’s built more and more chemistry that we have on the court. I just expect everybody to be high level and ready to play.”
Caldwell-Pope has been pretty good at rising to the occasion himself, converting nearly 40 (38.5) percent of his treys during the 2019-20 regular season. During the 2013-14 NBA season, Caldwell-Pope shot 31 percent from outside of the perimeter. He’s come a long way in improving his shooting from 3-point distance as well as his all-around game.
“The biggest thing I worked on this summer is just basically — I told myself, I’m always one to stay consistent, and just being ready and prepared. As far as my shooting, my three-point, I worked on that a lot. Just being ready whenever the shots get to me. Just being prepared whether I’m getting shots or not. Try to work on that as much as possible, and it’s showing off as far as where I’m at now. I put in the work all summer just to stay consistent behind the three-point line.”
While he averaged just over nine points a game during the regular season, Caldwell-Pope has upped his shooting percentage from 3-point land during the postseason. So far, through this year’s playoffs, Caldwell-Pope has converted 42 percent (32 of 76) of his 3-point tries. According to NBA’s postseason stats, the Lakers guard makes the Top 20 for this year’s playoff list.
However, only two players besides Caldwell-Pope are still hanging around to see if they can win a championship, and that is Heat players Duncan Robinson (44) and Goran Dragic (37). Caldwell-Pope’s long-ranging shooting could make a difference for the Lakers as they try to register a coveted 17th NBA title.
The Lakers, though, will have to run past Robinson, Dragic and Jimmy Butler and the Heat to claim that crown.
“What’s impressed me most about Miami is how they move the ball, how well they play together,” Caldwell-Pope said. “It’s not just one guy just trying to do it all. They are real connected. They play that way on both ends of the ball. As far as what to expect, I just expect a high-level series. Everybody just being ready and prepared to play.”
After having their hands full with Denver Nuggets stars Jamal Murray and Nikola Jockic to knock the Nuggets out of the playoffs in five games in the Western Conference Finals, Caldwell-Pope said the Denver series helped the Lakers to be more focused in one particular area.
“Just being prepared defensively,” Caldwell-Pope said. “Murray, he was a guy that could get 30 to 40 points a night. Just being on the ball as much as possible, taking away his pull-up threes and just forcing him to do stuff that he would normally not do. It’s prepared me a lot just mentally and being ready defensively.”