Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has gotten off to a slow start to his second playoff run with the Lakers. While his defense has been key in limiting the Suns’ guards while he’s on the floor, his shooting has been abysmal so far, as his 1-13 mark from three is the worst percentage (7.7%) of any Laker to take more than two. And that was before a knee contusion cost him the better part of the last two games.
But if there is a number that bothers LeBron James, it’s clear that it’s Caldwell-Pope’s amount of attempts, not how many of them he’s made. He wants his teammate to stay confident and keep shooting no matter the results, something he made clear to Caldwell-Pope in a moment captured by cameras earlier in the series.
Real leadership.— Complex Sports (@ComplexSports) May 26, 2021
“I want you to shoot!” LeBron to KCP pic.twitter.com/7GUOy1SPZp
Caldwell-Pope repeatedly shared that clip on his Instagram story earlier this week, using captions like “nothing but love and respect bro” and “Brother4Life,” and it was clear that the moment really touched him, something he confirmed after the team’s practice on Monday.
“That meant a lot to me. He’s one of the leaders on the team, he’s a guy I look up to, one of my big brothers, so it meant a lot. Me and Bron, we’ve been through a lot,” Caldwell-Pope said. “I know he wants me to shoot the ball. Regardless of how many I miss, just continue to shoot.”
In the past, these public displays of faith in him have fueled Caldwell-Pope. When Dwight Howard publicly defended Caldwell-Pope amidst boos at Staples Center and bullying online from Lakers fans last season, he went from shooting 22.7% over his first 11 games of the season to shooting 44.7% from deep over his next 20. When he began the Lakers’ 2020 title run with an 0-9 shooting game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Frank Vogel and the rest of the team’s continued faith in him helped fuel Caldwell-Pope to shoot 47.1% from deep over his next 10 games while continuing to serve as a key cog in the team’s championship chase beyond that. After the season, Caldwell-Pope went out of his way at the team’s title celebration to thank his coach for never giving up on him.
So as Caldwell-Pope gets set to potentially return in a Game 5 that will see his shooting be arguably more important than ever to space the floor for James with Anthony Davis on the sidelines, there is reason to believe that he can bounce back from his rough start to the playoffs.
“We’ve been through it before,” Caldwell-Pope said. “My mindset is to just try to stay focused in the moment, be aggressive, shoot the ball when I’m open, and just try to play to the best of my ability. Try not to worry about the shots I’ve missed already, or the shots that I’ve missed in the game. Just try to continue to shoot the ball and stay focused.”
If messages like the one he got from James can help him do that, then it will be just the latest time that Caldwell-Pope has been able to bounce back with a little help from his friends.