Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is on fire.
And it’s more than just hot shooting. He actually looks like a seasoned NBA 2-guard playing amongst rookies and castoffs.
The pain of missing out on a first-round pick this past June might be subsiding by the day in Detroit.
But there’s always someone who erupts during summer league, whether it’s been Nate Robinson, Josh Selby, Jeremy Lamb or JerrydBayless—all former MVPs of the event. The question is whether they can carry it over to the regular season against starters and second-unit regulars.
Last year, we saw Caldwell-Pope struggle adjusting to a new role as a supporting cast member after he spent the previous year at Georgia as the featured scorer in the offense.
Now an NBA sophomore on a summer league squad, Caldwell-Pope is once again featured in the offense, and he’s thriving as its top option. “We were still able to find KCP in some really, really good situations, situations where he’s comfortable scoring the ball,” Bob Beyer, the Pistons assistant and summer head coach told David Mayo of MLive.com.
Caldwell-Pope took at least 19 shots in each of those first three summer league games. And he’s consistently found a rhythm with all the looks and touches he’s received.
Going from being the top option to the fourth or fifth is always a challenge for young scoring guards. Caldwell-Pope will ultimately have to find a way to stay effective on seven to nine shots a game, and that means being opportunistic.
Caldwell-Pope didn’t exactly capitalize on his opportunities as a rookie, having finished the year below 40 percent from the field and 32 percent from downtown.
The bad news for Caldwell-Pope moving forward is that there’s an enormous logjam in the Pistons backcourt, as noted by ESPN.com’s Michael Wallace:
[Stan] Van Gundy’s first move in free agency last week was to land a commitment from former Los Angeles Lakers guard Jodie Meeks on a $20 million deal, which places direct pressure on Caldwell-Pope to develop quickly or get left behind. Van Gundy hopes to import a similar style from his days coaching the Magic, where he spread the floor with shooters around dominant centerDwight Howard.
The good news for Caldwell-Pope is that everyone in that logjam is replaceable. Jodie Meeks is undersized, Kyle Singler can’t defend and Will Bynum can’t shoot.
Caldwell-Pope has the tools and talent to separate himself from the pack as a two-way weapon on the wing.
No guard on this roster has his caliber of defensive tools, given his 6’6″ size, athleticism and quickness. Considering only three teams in the NBA last year gave up more points per game than Detroit, Caldwell-Pope’s defensive potential should hold value to the rotation.
Offensively, Caldwell-Pope has some dangerous shot-making ability with deep shooting range. And only the Philadelphia 76ers shot a worse percentage from downtown last season. The Pistons could really use Caldwell-Pope’s shooting stroke, not just as a weapon, but to stretch the floor for a frontcourt that plays mostly inside the arc.
But despite his ability to convert from all over the court, he just didn’t do enough of it last season. According to NBA.com, he made just 29.5 percent of his jump shots—an unacceptable number for a perimeter-oriented scorer.
So far, so good for Caldwell-Pope this summer. He’s hit nine of his first 23 attempts from downtown and is converting in the mid-range.
And it’s helped open up the dribble-drive game a bit, as he’s been getting to the rim and free-throw line.
Caldwell-Pope will certainly have his chance to earn a spot in the Pistons rotation this season, regardless of how many guards are stacked up at the 2-spot. He potentially offers a much-needed blend of shooting and defense, a combination not offered by Meeks, Singler or Bynum.
But it’s ultimately going to be consistency that makes or breaks Caldwell-Pope as a sophomore. There’s no doubt he’s got the game, as we’re currently seeing in Orlando. He’s just gotta bring it every night in what’s likely to be a reduced role from the one he saw at Georgia and the one he’s seeing now.