Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has become a popular punching bag among the Los Angeles Lakers fan base. He’s probably a bit overpaid — which fans never like — and makes some of the loudest mistakes you can on a basketball court, but overall, he probably takes too much criticism given what he’s done for the team thus far.
Dwight Howard recently came to his defense on Instagram, and earlier this week, LeBron James chimed in on the subject as well.
“I see everything honestly. It’s kinda like my gift and curse. I see things that I shouldn’t see, I see things that’s just right in front of my face, I see things that’s not even in front of my face,” James told reporters, in one of the most LeBron James ways possible. “But, I know what work ethic is, I know what hard work is, and I know what dedication to your craft is. I see KCP and Alex, and everyone, our whole team just work.”
James then listed the ways he sees his teammates put the work in, and cited that as the source of his confidence in them.
“So if you’re having struggles on the floor, it’s not because you didn’t put in the work, and I can be okay with that, and we can be okay with that. So we just try to keep that confidence level up in the guys no matter if they’re struggling or not,” James said.
Howard then reiterated the points he made previously about Caldwell-Pope and fan support.
“KCP has been playing great basketball,” Howard said. “We have to support our teammates. I believe in him, we all believe in him, and we want everybody who supports the Lakers to believe in him.”
And to Howard’s point, not only have the Lakers been good (they currently hold the best record in the NBA), but Caldwell-Pope has been a big part of that — especially while Avery Bradley has missed time with a hairline fracture in his right leg.
Howard then cited one of the toughest covers in the NBA this season, and how Caldwell-Pope fared on that assignment.
“He had a really tough assignment in checking Trae Young. He stopped up early, he picked him up full court, he pressured him, and we got off to a good start because of him,” Howard explained.
According to Howard, the support for Caldwell-Pope also comes down to the team’s top priority.
“We have one goal this season, and that’s to win the championship. I believe in him. I’ve just been having these thoughts in my head like, ‘man, what if KCP were to be the guy that hit the game winning shot for us to win the chip?’ That’s just in my head. I’m just really excited for him,” Howard said.
And really, that’s what this is all about. Sure, if there was a way where the team wasn’t so reliant on Caldwell-Pope, we might feel a little better about their chances. But that isn’t the case, and even still, he (and the team) has been good despite the occasional airballed layup.
Now, if things turn, and Caldwell-Pope is a part of things heading in a negative direction, then fine, he’ll deserve criticism as much as his next teammate. But right now, it seems pretty counterproductive to kick a dude while he’s down before he ever hits the floor.
It’s also probably not farfetched at all to think that Howard coming to KCP’s defense and his other teammates’ continued support may have resulted in Caldwell-Pope’s improved play of late. Over his last three games (since Bradley went down), Caldwell-Pope has shot 54.5% from three-point range, including big shots in the fourth quarter while the game was still very much in question.
Maybe KCP is feeding off the confidence his teammates rallying around him has given him, or maybe it’s a matter of not having to worry about losing playing time to a healthy Bradley. But whatever the reason might be, the Lakers need him now, and will likely need him in bigger moments as the season rolls on. When he comes through, he deserves as much praise as the criticism he gets when he falls short.