I don't know about you all ... but I felt really happy for Kawhi when he received his well-deserved Finals MVP trophy. He played near-perfect for the last 3 games of the season. But I couldn't help but think about his ascent. He showed signs of becoming a good player as a rookie, with the following stat line:
24mpg, 49%FG, 38%3P, 1.3 steals, and 8 points
What is somewhat miraculous about these numbers is that Kawhi shot 25% from the 3 point line in college during his two years at San Diego State. His 45%FG at SDSU also seems fairly lackluster ... which is why during the 2011 NBA draft, Jay Bilas claimed that Kawhi would not be a scorer in the league because he couldn't shoot from the perimeter. Jay noted that Kawhi's calling card would be his defense -- and while that is certainly one of his strengths, Kawhi has improved his shooting in a way that is nearly unheard of.
Much of his improvement is sourced to Chip Engelland, the Spurs' shooting guru. As all of you know, the slightest of percentage points labels players as "shooters." And once you're in this elite category in the NBA, the game opens up for you. Driving lanes are more available as defenders attempt to close-out too quickly or fall for a shot fake, teammates are more willing to set screens and pass the ball, and with all of this, "shooters" become integral to NBA offenses. One offense that desperately missed "shooters" were the Detroit Pistons.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was drafted last year to provide some defense and shooting (similar to the role Kawhi Leonard plays with the Spurs). We very quickly found out that KCP was our best defender last year, but his shooting was inconsistent. After making 37% of his 3 point attempts at Georgia in his sophomore campaign, Kentavious only shot 32% from the 3 line for the Pistons. His release looks silky and I believe is undoubtedly smoother than Kawhi Leonard's, but KCP struggled. Perhaps it was the grind of an 82-game season. Perhaps it was playing a lot of minutes at the 3 position and having minimal touches. Perhaps it was his teammates and a lack of coaching by Cheeks and Loyer. Whatever the cause, is there reason to believe that KCP can make a jump next season similar to Kawhi's?
Statistically, KCP was better in almost every category at college, and that's with a higher usage rate. Style-wise, they are fairly similar players: quick first-steps, strength for their positions (KCP can still add another 5-10 lbs), good shooters, not incredibly crafty with their handle but can execute straight line drives to the basket (KCP was not really allowed to handle the ball last year, and neither was Kawhi in his first year in SA. When he was able to the ball in the last few games, KCP proved more than capable to initiate some possessions on offense), and are very good defenders. Kentavious can learn a few things from Kawhi's success in the Finals, most notably how to move off the ball -- but from what I've heard, Pope is a humble and curious learner, and I expect him to be markedly better next season. He didn't really have anyone to learn the 2 position from, so I think it could be great to bring in a guy like Anthony Morrow. But bottom line, if you liked Kawhi's playoff performance, you should definitely be rooting for KCP next year!