Nuggets guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope cares far more than most fans know.
The 10-year veteran got off to a blistering start this season, his first in Denver since being acquired from Washington over the summer. According to Caldwell-Pope, it’s the best start he’s ever had.
Among players with at least 4.5 3-point attempts per game, Caldwell-Pope entered Friday night’s matchup against the Lakers leading the NBA with a 45.3% shooting clip from outside the arc. This despite suffering a minor cold spell in early December. In the four games from Nov. 30 through Dec. 6, the Nuggets dropped three of four and Caldwell-Pope momentarily lost his rhythm, connecting on only 4 of 17 from 3-point range. Simultaneously, he struggled to get rebounds.
The “drought” weighed heavy on Caldwell-Pope.
“I was (in my head) because this is like my first season (here),” Caldwell-Pope told The Post this week. “I started off great and then had that little slump. It kind of threw me off a little bit.”
The remedy was two-fold. First, Caldwell-Pope talked to his inner circle, meaning his family and agent, Rich Paul. Then he looked in the mirror.
“I had a talk with my people and myself, at that,” he said. “I just started laughing. ‘I gotta get back to myself.’ I had my mind, it was all over the place.”
Despite proving to be a fantastic fit since being traded for Monte Morris and Will Barton this past summer, it was a reminder of how fickle confidence can be, even for an NBA veteran leading the league in 3-point shooting. Off the court, Caldwell-Pope carries himself with the assertiveness of a player with an NBA championship (with the Lakers) on his resume. On the court, he’s a dogged competitor with a penchant for questioning officials. But still, he needed some reassurance.
Caldwell-Pope said he leaned on his people to “clear my mind (and) clear my heart.”
In addition to “his” people, Caldwell-Pope had a conversation with Nuggets coach Michael Malone about his struggles. The conclusion was clear and yielded a renewed sense of self. Caldwell-Pope said he came to realize that his game has always begun at the defensive end.
“I’ve been doing that my whole career, letting my defense dictate my offense, as far as like being engaged on defense, getting out in the passing lanes, getting steals, rebounds and also just running in transition just to get me flowing, moving,” he said. “Then worry about the offensive end once we get there.”
Over his past four games, Caldwell-Pope’s shooting 41% from 3, but defensively, he’s got 16 rebounds, five steals and two blocks. His engagement at the defensive end has been excellent, even as the Nuggets continue to flounder overall.
“I feel like I built my career off that,” he said.
Now, when you watch Caldwell-Pope lock down an opposing player, notice how the effort on one end often translates to success on the other.
“I’m happy out there now,” he said.