Projecting how a rookie will perform in the NBA is kind of like weather forecasting – there are so many interrelated factors to consider that it’s difficult to be sure what will actually happen. But I thought it would be worth a try to take a closer look at the Pistons’ newest 1st round pick to see what we can reasonably expect of him.
First, let’s look at how Kentavious Caldwell-Pope performed as a sophomore for the University of Georgia. Most of us have already heard how heavily dependent the Bulldogs were upon him. He led his team in scoring, rebounding and steals. He produced over 30% of their points. He scored in double figures in all 32 of their games. All together, the rest of his teammates scored in double figures just 34 times.
As a way to further review KCP’s play, I’ve divided his statistical production into three splits – best, worst, and middle – based primarily on how well he shot. (Since he played 32 games, the middle group consists of 10 games.) Here’s the table:
Let’s begin by looking at KCP’s 11 worst games. A quick glance reveals that these games were his worst only in terms of his shooting percentages. His averages for rebounds and steals are actually higher, and he still scored a respectable 16.8 points per game (less than 2 below his average). While he shot under 30% from the floor, he made almost 80% of his FTs. While this table doesn’t directly show it, KCP also shot 25 more FTs (making 21) in those 11 games. That’s why his TS% of 46.6 in these games is not as bad as we might expect. He shot 10 or more FTs in 4 of these 11 games.
In one game KCP actually missed ALL of his shots from the floor! But a closer look at that contest is very revealing. On Jan. 26, Georgia traveled to College Station to play Texas A & M. Kentavious led the Bulldogs to a 59-52 victory, scoring a game-high 22 points (8-12 FGs/4-8 3s) and also leading all rebounders with 9. Two weeks later on Feb. 9, the Aggies came to Athens. While Georgia again triumphed (52-46), KCP was held to a season low of 10 points. He missed all 3 of his FG attempts. But he shot 10-10 on FTs. It’s clear that A & M focused on stopping the man who had almost single-handedly beaten them the previous month. Yet Caldwell-Pope still found a way to help his team win.
When we look at his middle 10 games, we see shooting averages very close to his overall record. A surprising fact is that his scoring average was lower, but this reflects the fact that KCP took under 11 shots per game in this split. (He attempted over 14 shots a game in his other 22 outings.) His FTAs, rebounds and steals were also lower, which tells me he may not have played as aggressively in these games. Still, he shot efficiently. And his 5.8 boards and 1.4 steals still beat Ben McLemore’s season averages for Kansas.
When we examine KCP’s best 11 games, we see how dangerous a scorer he can be. As noted above, he averaged over 14 shots (nearly 8 were 3s). He also went to the line almost 5 times per game. With a TS% over 70, and connecting on 55% of his FGs (45% on 3s), it’s no wonder that he averaged 23.3 points in those contests. He shot over 50% in 8 of these games. Besides the previously mentioned 8-12 effort against Texas A & M, KCP also shot 10-14 versus USC and 9-12 at Tennessee. Clearly he’s a shooter with the ability to get a hot hand. His most explosive effort came in a loss to LSU on March 14. He shot 9-20 on FGs (6-15 on 3s), 8-12 on FTs, and grabbed 13 rebounds. (By the way, he pulled down 10 or more caroms in 7 games last season.)
Caldwell-Pope’s 2 steals and 5.9 defensive rebounds per game are a solid indication of his strong defensive potential. From all accounts of his college career and Summer League play, he’s a guy who will consistently play hard on both ends of the floor. Even when his shot wasn’t falling in the first couple of games in Orlando, his overall effort was strong. If we exclude his first game stats due to adjustment jitters, for the next 4 contests KCP averaged 16.3 points on 43.2% shooting – very close to how he did as a Georgia sophomore. However, he made just 30.4% of his 3s (22.6% for all 5 games), so it appears that he was still adjusting to the NBA 3-point line.
What can we expect of Kentavious in his inaugural NBA season? I think the progress he made through a week of Summer League gives us good reason for long-term optimism. But I believe we need to be realistic in our expectations. With that attitude in mind, I looked back at the rookie campaigns of other shooting guards picked in recent years. Since the 2009 Draft, 15 SGs have been selected in the lottery. (Some were also considered a PG or a SF, but all have played at least some as a SG.) The table below shows how they performed during their rookie year:
After reviewing and reflecting upon these stats, one thing that’s clear to me is that most rookie SGs don’t start right away. And those who do (Evans, DeRozan) will not necessarily become the best pros. James Harden didn’t start a single game his first year, but he’s turned out to be very good! Even so, most of these lotto picks did get significant playing time as rookies, and only 5 averaged less than 20 minutes per game. Of those who have been in the league more than a year, most have shown continued improvement.
A major factor that will affect KCP’s playing time as a rookie is the role the Pistons give the other guards on their roster, as well as who is still on the team in October. We have 3 PGs who have also played SG (Billups, Knight, Stuckey), and it’s certainly possible that one of them will begin the season as our starter at that position. But based on the role we’ve given our lotto picks from the past 3 drafts, it’s likely that Caldwell-Pope will be given every opportunity to be a significant part of our rotation. After a slow start, Greg Monroe ended up starting 48 games and averaging 27.8 minutes. Brandon Knight was quickly plugged into the line-up due to injuries, starting 60 games and averaging 32.3 minutes. And even though his playing time was curtailed due to injury and playing backup center to Monroe, Andre Drummond still started 10 games and averaged 20.7 minutes.
I think it’s reasonable to project that KCP will quickly become a regular part of our playing rotation, and will push for a starting position by the All-Star break. He appears to have the defensive tools and motivation to make an immediate impact on that end of the floor. As he adjusts to life in the NBA and the pro game, he should also offer us scoring from range that will give our bigs more room to operate in the paint. I’m hoping that in 2013-14 he’ll give us close to 10 points per game in about 24 minutes, along with solid defense, rebounding and ball-thievery.
So what are your expectations of our newest lotto pick?