Don't sleep on 'KCP' in NBA Finals! SMB assistant coach Dayong Mendoza tells why

Don't let the stats deceive you on what KCP can deliver for the Lakers. USA Today (file photo)
By Ivan Saldajeno

MANILA—Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been far off from his prime days as far as this year's NBA Playoffs is concerned.

The former Detroit Pistons star has been struggling in form as a Los Angeles Laker, and it is evident in this year's finals against the Miami Heat, only shooting 29.2 percent from the field two games in including a more awful 23.5 percent clip from long range.

However, in Game 2 on Saturday (Philippine Time), where the Heat fared better than Game 1 and even kept the match close in the third quarter, "KCP" had the best plus-minus among all players at plus-14, that is, the Lakers outscored the Heat by 14 every time he is on the court.

Despite being underwhelming, Caldwell-Pope remains a vital player for the Lakers if San Miguel assistant coach Dayong Mendoza is to be asked.

"Para sa akin, si Pope ang crucial number three ng Lakers," Mendoza said when asked about his analysis of the game that the Lakers won, 124-114.

Mendoza's statement sounds interesting considering that the Lakers have rising stars Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso, who are playing off the bench.

But stat-wise, it is actually the case.

Caldwell-Pope, despite the offensive struggles, is the Lakers' third leading scorer this series, averaging 12 points a game.

Rajon Rondo, who dropped 16 in Game 2, averages slightly below Caldwell-Pope at 11.5.

Caruso, who made 10 in Game 1, only had six in Game 2, dropping his average to eight a game.

Kuzma has his own struggles as well, only making seven markers an outing.

If Mendoza is to be asked, Caldwell-Pope, even if he is shooting badly on the floor, only has a few bad shots so far.

"He knows where to pick his spot, whether he's missing or not," Mendoza further said. "Bihirang-bihira yung mga stupid mistakes."

He added that Caldwell-Pope has been effective as an under-the-radar player in a squad filled with four superstars from the past two decades, Rondo, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis.

"Hindi siya agaw-pansin kay LeBron at Davis. Si Pope, ang binibigay sa Lakers, yung alignment, dala ng bola, spacing," Mendoza continued, adding that Caldwell-Pope is also contributing great defense on the Heat.

Mendoza further commended Caldwell-Pope for being a system player under Coach Frank Vogel, and current Muntinlupa and Jose Rizal University mentor Louie Gonzalez gave some nod to Vogel as well.

"We need to give credit where the credit is due," Gonzalez said of Vogel.

Vogel and the Lakers can take a commanding 3-0 lead in Game 3 of the best-of-seven finals on Monday (Philippine Time).

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno_