The Detroit Pistons were more active than just about any other franchise this offseason, turning over half their roster and ready to debut a starting lineup with four new members on it.
And while the team has fortified its talent at the center, power forward, small forward and point guard positions, shooting guard is still the position with the least amount of depth and the most amount of questions.
The candidates vying for a piece of the minutes at the off-guard spot include Chauncey Billups, Rodney Stuckey, Kyle Singler and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
And it's that last player that provides the most intrigue. He was a surprise pick at No. 8 in the NBA draft. While everyone figured Joe Dumars would select a young, possible franchise point guard (Michigan's Trey Burke, fresh off being named college player of the year, was available), he instead opted to go with a largely unheralded player on a bad Georgia team.
In his stellar player preview, Shinons* outlines the question marks surrounding Pope:
Caldwell-Pope could easily find himself playing big minutes early or on the outside looking in. His role could also take on a variety of appearances, perhaps as a catalyst off the bench or maybe a three and D guy as a starter. But his talent and wide range of skills should have the team looking for ways to get him involved, and hopefully by the end of the season he will solidify himself as the shooting guard of the future.
Many fans are similarly hopeful but under the impression Pope is not going to get a fair shot in his rookie campaign. He's going to be babied, or buried or worse -- not allowed to play through inevitable rookie mistakes.
I think this pessimism is misguided, although I think I know where it comes from. For years Detroit struggled to develop players simply because its starting lineup was so stacked. That combined with the entirely legitimate (and lengthy) debate last season when Andre Drummond, who was the best player on the floor in a Pistons uniform whenever he stepped on the floor, saw his minutes limited to around 20 per game for most of the season.
As with the Drummond example, there are a few high-profile cases where a player didn't seem to get a fair shake. Tayshaun Prince (a very good player) barely played as a rookie and Darko Milicic (a very young, very bad player) was relegated to human victory cigar status. But I also recall complaints about Austin Daye (let the shooter shoot!) and Greg Monroe (benched to begin his career!).
But in reality, Drummond might be the exception rather than the rule.
If you look deeper at the numbers, in the Dumars era, the Pistons have never really been shy about playing rookies, especially if a rookie shows an ability to play the game of professional basketball. This was especially true after one of the healthiest, most effective cores in NBA history began to be broken up piece by piece.
Note: I didn't include second-round picks below 40 because they hardly play or pan out for anyone. I also didn't include Khris Middleton because he was rehabbing from a knee injury or Terrico White who was injured in his lone year in Detroit.
So in the past four years, you see a bunch of starters or fringe rotation players (and the wrong DaJuan). You also see that four players finished the year top three in minutes played. And there is no reason to think Pope won't experience a similar floor and ceiling -- with reality closer to Monroe than Afflalo.
After all, there is fit and there is opportunity.
The Pistons are desperate for quality perimeter defense to pair with Brandon Jennings, and someone who can hit a perimeter shot when Josh Smith, Monroe and Drummond share the floor. Pope's skillset indicate he will be able to help in both areas.
If you go back to the post-pick press conference on draft night, Dumars made it plain that KCP fit a big need on the team, and it's a need that hasn't gone away.
We are very happy to be able to fill that spot with Kentavious. And one other thing I would say is the one thing we really liked about him in particular was that this is a kid who plays both sides of the ball. A fierce defender and a 3-point shooter and a guy who can get out and fill the lanes. We just didn't feel like we had enough of that.
When you look at our board, Wojo, there is not a name up there where we say "two-guard." We have Khris Middleton and we have Kyle Singler . We've got Stuck and Brandon who are more combo guards. But just in terms of wing athletes we certainly just don't have enough and it was a position we knew we had to fill.
And so when you got two bigs like Greg and Andre you've got to be able to spread the floor. The fact that he can spread the floor and get out on the break is really appealing to us.
And even with the influx of talent on the roster, there is no established veteran to block Pope from getting an extended run at the two spot. This isn't Prince blocking Carlos Delfino, or Richard Hamilton and Billups blocking Afflalo and Stuckey. When Monroe, Jerebko and Singler had no better players in front of them they played. When the team decided to commit to Knight he played for better or worse.
Pope is the best candidate for the starting shooting guard spot. Pope is going to be the starting shooting guard for the Detroit Pistons.
Maybe not right away, especially if they want Billups announced that first game at the Palace. But soon.
And the same could be said for fellow rookie Luigi Datome, but that is an article for another time.