As LeBron James dribbled up the court, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope sprinted to the corner and Alex Caruso raced to the wing on the Lakers fastbreak. James penetrated deep into the defense, forcing defenders to collapse around him.
Surrounded, James did a 360-degree spin in the lane and whipped the ball to Caldwell-Pope. As a defender closed out on him, Caldwell-Pope moved the ball to a wide-open Caruso. His feet and hands ready to receive the pass, Caruso calmly raised up and knocked down a three-pointer.
That possession Wednesday night at Oklahoma City was yet another sign of how the three-pointer has become a major part of the Lakers’ arsenal and made them an even more lethal offene.
“It starts, I think, with the way LeBron is shooting the ball from the perimeter,” coach Frank Vogel said on a videoconference. “That gives us a burst in that statistical category. But we have a team of proficient three-point shooters and we’re continuing to grow our shot identification — what are good shots, what are bad shots. Our team is trying to work for shot quality, not forcing and trying to be efficient in everything we do. If we’re focused on high-quality threes, we’re going to shoot a high percentage and I think that’s what we’ve seen so far.”
The Lakers have connected on 39.6% of their triples, third best in the NBA. That has helped them shoot 48.8% from the field overall, also third best in the league, and average 115.4 points, seventh in the league.
While Vogel brought up James as “probably the best shooter on our team,” there could be a friendly debate. James is making 38.2% of his threes, the second highest of his career. But Caruso is second in the NBA, making 58.3% of his threes, and Caldwell-Pope is fourth making 55.3%.
“We got a lot of great shooters on the team, man,” James said, rattling off a list of teammates including Kyle Kuzma, Dennis Schroder and Anthony Davis. “KCP, a great shooter. Wes Matthews, great shooter. Kuz can shoot the heck out of the ball. Dennis the Menace can shoot the ball. AD can shoot the ball. So, we got a lot of great, knock-down shooters.”
Davis wouldn’t commit to James being their best three-point shooter. Not with Caruso and Caldwell-Pope among the league leaders, Kuzma shooting 40%, Matthews 39%, Marc Gasol 38.1% and Schroder 34%.
“Umm, he’s up there. I mean, Bron has been shooting the ball extremely well this year,” said Davis, who’s shooting a career-high 37.1% on threes. “Obviously Kenny has been shooting the ball. … Congrats to him on moving up to ninth on the Lakers list. But I would have to say Kenny is always our guy who we always look to for shots.
“Wes is still struggling to find his consistent three. He’s been getting open looks, but I still put Wes up there. I put Bron third, just because of this year he’s been able to shoot the ball extremely well. Marc can shoot it. Marc is up there. And then I put myself. Dudz [Jared Dudley]. AC. Honestly, all those guys are able to make shots, and we have been making shots this year. So it’s tough. … You know LeBron’s always gonna be up there because he shoots a ton of them, especially when he gets hot, and starts shooting half court and things like that.”
No one is hotter than Caldwell-Pope making four of six from three-point range in Friday’s win over New Orleans. He’s now in elite company, passing Metta World Peace for ninth in team history with 423 makes.
“Numbers don’t lie,” Caldwell-Pope said. “But I’m really enjoying LeBron shooting the ball. He’s shooting it at a tremendous clip. He’s knocking them down and it’s fun seeing him have [success] shooting the ball as well. But we all know, I’m the real shooter for sure.”