Los Angeles — With LeBron James sidelined for another game as he continues to deal with his groin injury, Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton knew he’d need other players to step up and help L.A. get its first win since James went down.
So at shootaround before the Lakers took on the Sacramento Kings, Walton approached Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to tell him he had “a green light” to let it fly against the Kings.
Caldwell-Pope told Walton he didn’t have to worry about that.
“I was like ‘coach, I’m gonna get ‘em up tonight,’” Caldwell-Pope said.
Get them up he did, as Caldwell-Pope dropped a season-high 26 points against the Kings while taking 13 threes (also a season-high), canning five of them and giving Walton exactly the “huge spark off the bench” he wants.
“I tell him all the time to just walk around in a shooting stance. Just be ready to shoot all day long. I want any time that the ball gets swung to him, if their guy is not right on him, I want him shooting the ball,” Walton said.
Caldwell-Pope was happy to oblige against the Kings.
“After I made the first two, that shot from the logo went in so I felt like whatever I throw up is going in, so I just kept shooting,” Caldwell-Pope said.
“I just continued to let it fly, man. My confidence is through the roof.”
The Lakers will need Caldwell-Pope’s confidence to stay sky-high. With no James to effortlessly create shots for his teammates, the spacing Caldwell-Pope provides is invaluable for the Lakers, and the numbers bore that out against the Kings.
Caldwell-Pope had a team-high net rating of 27 against Sacramento, meaning the Lakers outscored the Kings at a rate that would equal 27 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor.
“He really freed up a lot of driving lanes for all the other players,” said Lakers forward and one of the beneficiaries of those driving lanes, Kyle Kuzma, who had 18 points in part due to extra spacing to get to the rack.
And this wasn’t just a one-game thing. The Lakers have been 4.4 points per 100 possessions better when Caldwell-Pope plays than when he sits in the three games since LeBron James went down, but that value doesn’t only come from his shooting.
“Defensively he’s big for us,” said Lakers guard Josh Hart. “Down the stretch he was key for us.”
Put it all together, and Caldwell-Pope — who sounds and seems more confident than ever — might be starting to figure out where he fits in for the Lakers. He said he’s going to “keep being patient” with his game, but he’s also happy that he’s rounding into form (even if it’s a few months after he originally thought he did).
“My season didn’t start how I wanted it to start, but it’s going how I want it to go now. I feel more confident, more relaxed and I’m just gonna continue to get better and play my game,” Caldwell-Pope said.
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