It took two years and nearly $40 million in guaranteed salary, but the Kentavious Caldwell-Pope experience is finally fully underway in Los Angeles, and not in the bad way Lakers fans have grown to expect.
After a rough start to the season, Caldwell-Pope is averaging 8.2 points per game on 45.3% shooting from the field, including a career-high 39.7% shooting from behind the arc. He’s also been one the most consistent perimeter defenders on the team this year.
Caldwell-Pope’s two-way play earned him a call up to the starting lineup when Avery Bradley went down with an injury last month. In the 14 games he’s started since then, he’s increased his averages to 10.6 points on 51.5% shooting from the field, including 46.4% from 3-point range. He even got to keep his starting spot now that Bradley is back.
Overall, Caldwell-Pope is just playing with a level of comfort we haven’t seen all season, and Frank Vogel took note of it after the Lakers’ win against the Orlando Magic — a game in which Caldwell-Pope stepped up and scored 15 points:
“It’s not just playing with the starting group, he’s playing with confidence in general. He’s comfortable in our system, embracing the role of really working hard on the defensive end (and) guarding one of the other team’s best perimeter players … He made some big (shots).”
That confidence was built up with the help of his teammates, who stood by his side and defended him from critics while he was struggling, but it was on Caldwell-Pope to deliver and he’s done so pretty quickly. From where he started to where he is now is night and day.
It’s still worth questioning whether Caldwell-Pope is more valuable to the Lakers than a true small forward would be in a playoff series — especially with how many guards they have on the roster — but at least Caldwell-Pope no longer feels like a thorn in the team’s side.
Unless he’s vocal about wanting to pursue an opportunity elsewhere, it seems safe to assume the Lakers won’t look to move him before the trade deadline.