Swerving past a trio of Pistons’ players on a dead sprint, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope tightly secured and finished an unreal second quarter bounce pass from Lonzo Ball that would bring LeBron James, the Lakers’ bench and all of Staples Center to their feet.
Like that roaring fast break possession, this season has moved pretty fast for the 25-year-old wing.
Heading into this year, and on a roster with James and very few reputable outside threats around him, Caldwell-Pope was eagerly expected to once again produce at last season’s high marks.
But, like other Lakers trying to find their niche around James, a slow start and an undefined role quickly raised questions — and trade rumors — for the shooting guard. In the Lakers’ first ten games of the season, Caldwell-Pope came out ice cold and struggled mightily from behind the arc
Caldwell-Pope converted his 3-point chances at only a 21.7 percent clip during that span, and on his attempts that were classified as “wide-open” (six-plus feet of space from nearest defender) the guard shot only a measly 15.4 percent, according NBA.com’s tracking data.
His early poor shooting encapsulated what was — and still is — a team-wide issue from behind the arc, an area many speculated was poorly addressed by the front office in the team's offseason checklist.
As of this piece, the Lakers currently rank 26th in the league in 3-point efficiency (34.6 percent) per Cleaning the Glass, which is worse than last year’s already poor 35.3 mark.
Fortunately for the Lakers, and their spacing, Caldwell-Pope’s jumper has seen jarring statistical improvements since that poor stretch in thanks to some tinkering.
After working for the past few months with Chris Matthews (aka “Lethal Shooter”), a popular NBA and WNBA private shooting coach, Caldwell-Pope’s improved 3-point stroke has been like mana from for a scoring-deprived Lakers’ club.
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I rarely ever post a client of mine but Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is one of many players who have been using the weekly workouts & pre-game drills for the last two months. Trusted in the changes I wanted to make with his jumper. All of my clients have seen an increase in their shooting percentages. Seeing improvement in my clients shooting is what’s most important to me. • Before training Nov. 5th 19/51 = 37.3 FG% 5/23 = 21.7 3PT% 13/14 = 92.9 FT% • After training Nov 5th - Dec 30th 96/220 = 43.6 FG% 52/134 = 38.8 3PT% 50/56 = 89.3 FT% #StayLockedIn #LethalShooter
Since the duo’s November 5th training start date, Caldwell-Pope has canned 38.3 percent of his outside looks (which is identical to his career high posting last season).
Also prior to the sessions, Caldwell-Pope was 0-8 on his pull-up attempts from three. Since then, he is 13/28 (46.4 percent). And on those wide-open looks he was making at an astronomically low rate to start the season, Caldwell-Pope has begun to convert at a whopping 43.5 percent clip.
One of the most noticeable differences in Caldwell-Pope’s shooting mechanics, beside the overall confidence, is the degree of balance and improved functionality he has demonstrated on the move.
Here is a clip of his stroke prior to the training. His gather (which was interrupted a bit by the low pass by Ball) was hurt by his footwork (planting) causing him to hitch and fire instead of a smooth one-motion heave.
For comparison, this is his most current iteration of his form. Beside the make, Caldwell-Pope’s solid relocation helps generate rhythm prior to the catch.
This — coupled with a stark difference in footwork and planting as the ball hits his shooting pocket — helps create improved vertical balance and arc as Caldwell-Pope rises.
The “trust” Caldwell-Pope has had in the alterations to his mechanics, and the corresponding impressive results, could be a major development for this team as James nears his return.
With the amount of gravity James draws when he bulldozes through the paint, having a shooter with Caldwell-Pope’s recent hot streak on the perimeter will be sorely needed in improving what has been an atrocious half-court offense in James’ absence.
Caldwell-Pope may never live up to the expectations that come with being a lottery selection and being paid like one ever since, but since joining the Lakers he has been pretty close to everything they could have asked for.
With the playoffs in sight this season, Caldwell-Pope’s solid defense and his improved shooting could buy him valuable minutes on the floor when the Lakers need him the most.
And if Caldwell-Pope’s recent production is any indication of what he can offer when games start to really matter, the Lakers could be more dangerous than originally expected.