When Kentavious Caldwell-Pope walked onto the floor at a Lakers home game earlier this season, he was greeted with a couple boos from fans that not only seemed to get the attention of Caldwell-Pope, but his teammates as well.
Those boos could’ve been because of his struggles on offense. In Caldwell-Pope’s first 11 games, he shot 22.7% on his three-point attempts. He also had a couple infamous missed layups. Should the fans have still booed? No. Why you might ask? Well, while he wasn’t directly asked, it seems fair to guess that head coach Frank Vogel doesn’t think so, as when asked about Caldwell-Pope’s “up-and-down” season, he pointed out that there’s a whole other side of the court where the guard had been consistently performing well.
“He’s an excellent defender. We’re the No. 1 defense in the league, and he’s a big part of that. So, I don’t feel like he’s really had an up-and-down type of season,” Vogel said. “He’s been really consistent with his energy and with his defense.”
In Caldwell-Pope’s first 11 games, the Lakers had a defensive rating of 95.0 with him on the court, which was the 2nd best on the team (not counting Rajon Rondo’s first 14 minutes played). He’s been doing a great job on that end of the floor, and it’s made him more valuable than the scapegoat some seem to see him as:
One of many different areas Caldwell-Pope has been doing well on the defensive end is that he loves to deny his man the ball, which tires out the offensive player. He’s done a great job of getting over screens and really making his marks work to even get the ball. He’s currently averaging 1.4 deflections per game and 1.2 loose balls recovered per game (the latter of which ranks third on the team).
According to NBA.com, Caldwell-Pope has held Trae Young to 0-4 shooting from the floor, Buddy Hield 0-2 and Devin Booker 0-2. Caldwell-Pope has also held his opponents to 17.5% on their three-point attempts.
Now, as far as the offensive end goes, KCP has flipped the switch these last three games. He’s averaging 14.0 points per game on 63.0% shooting over that span, and he’s also shooting 54.5% from three (3.7 attempts). Not only that, but his chemistry with LeBron James has rounded back into form. He’s assisted to KCP the second-most of any player over the last three games (with the first being Anthony Davis). They’ve even connected a couple times on those famous LeBron touchdown passes.
Caldwell-Pope might have not had the start to the season that many fans had expected on the offensive end, but his effort on the defensive end shouldn’t be ignored, and the same goes for his offensive improvement. Caldwell-Pope may occasionally make some high-profile gaffes, but they don’t outweigh the overall pluses he’s brought to this team. His scoring turnaround has already halted the boos, but if he keeps this up, he just may turn them into consistent cheers as well.