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Previewing the 2014-15 Pistons: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

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Will KCP take off during his sophomore campaign with the Detroit Pistons? Early signs point to a resounding yes.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

KCP didn't stand a chance during his rookie season. Neither did the Pistons, really, but KCP really did not stand a chance from the second he was drafted by the maligned and now "reassigned" Joe Dumars. You know the story: Largely unknown shooting guard from Georgia drafted over a familiar Michigan man whose name was still on the board.

That Michigan man, TREY BURKE, played almost 700 more minutes than the Georgia product did in his rookie year, collected more counting stats the talk radio set love to cite as all-important and played "well" (20 points and 12 assists) in his lone game in front of some of his hometown fans at The Palace. Even when KCP put up a career-high 30 points on the final night of the season, Burke responded with a troll-y 32.

So who can blame KCP for wanting to put the silly Burke stuff behind him?

His rise in 2014-2015 will certainly help.

2013-14 Year in Review

Caldwell-Pope's rookie season had its fair share of ups and downs, a lot of which can be attributed to being on a disastrous team and him simply being a rookie. While there was a lot to like for a smooth transition from the University of Georgia to the NBA, the change didn't exactly go as predicted.

KCP started 39 consecutive games in the middle of the season from the eighth game on, during which he started to come into his own and he was quietly becoming one of the more efficient players on the team. Unfortunately, he found himself a victim of Maurice Cheeks' quick hook after giving up a couple baskets to future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade in an early Feb. game against the Miami Heat. (Cheeks was fired three games later.) Pope would go on to get snubbed from the Rising Stars challenge and struggle mightily over the next 34 games, shooting 25 percent from 3 and playing only 12 minutes per game. It was beginning to feel like any progress he made earlier in the season was washing away.

But then he got the nod for the final game of the season, a return to the starting lineup against the playoff-bound Oklahoma City Thunder. And, oh, was that final game of the season glorious. Pope put on display the confidence he seemingly lost when he was relegated to a bench role, leaving all the pent-up confidence and aggressiveness on the floor. He shot 11-of-19 (5-of-7 from deep) for a career-high 30 points and added six rebounds and two steals. It was a teaser of the potential realization to come.

pope c&s

2014-15 Projected Production

Before publishing, it was reported that KCP's expected to start the first game of the season on Wednesday against the Denver NuggetsKCP missed the Pistons' final four preseason games with a knee strain, but he has been back at practice. If he's healthy enough to play, he should be healthy enough to assume the job he earned with his play in the Summer League and first two preseason games before slipping on a wet spot in Washington (boy, mop water!) -- the starting job.

In five Summer League games, KCP averaged 24 points per game on 33 percent shooting from three and sported an overall 54 True Shooting Percentage, modest shooting numbers but clear improvements for him. He didn't just lead by example, though; KCP also transformed from a quiet rookie lurking in the shadows to an exuberant floor general. He carried that success and leadership over into the preseason where he averaged 17 points on 47 percent shooting from three and an astounding 64 True Shooting Percentage.

His shooting numbers will probably fall somewhere in between where he produced in Summer League and the three preseason games -- huge progress from last year. Whatever they are, they will likely come with more shot attempts, as he only took six shots in 19 minutes per game last year whereas this season he will be playing starter's minutes in a Stan Van Gundy system that likes to see the shots distributed more evenly. Shots that Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings were taking last year, will hopefully be going to the more efficient KCP.

For those of you who followed KCP in college, this season might actually wind up looking pretty familiar. KCP took a huge leap from his freshman to his sophomore year at Georgia, improving at every major statistical category -- and the jump in shooting was significant. He went from being a 30-percent 3-point shooter his freshman year to a 37-percent shooter in slightly more attempts the next year. He nearly doubled his free-throw attempts and yet increased his free-throw shooting by almost 15-percentage points. It's what turned him from a draft prospect into a bona fide lottery pick.

KCP's oozing with confidence, too, and he is not shy about expressing his expectations this season:

"I just feel," Caldwell-Pope said, "like this is my breakout year." ..."I had this feeling at Georgia. I had it in high school, too," he said. "I had my breakout year at Georgia when I went from my freshman year, from doing well, being the second scorer, to being the leading scorer my second year. It was just a great year for me. I feel that same way now."

I haven't even discussed his defensive ability, which is where Van Gundy feels the 6-foot-5 athletically gifted guard can really be great.

"I think, number one, you always look at players first to their strengths. Where can a guy be great?" Van Gundy said. "And I think he can be an elite defender in this league at the two-guard spot, and so we'll look for that every night. I think he's a high-energy guy who can get up and down the floor and attack the basket in transition. I think those two things have got to be his foundation."

KCP has great instincts, the ones that can help him get easy steals on passes and disrupt shots other (shorter and less athletic) guards can't. KCP averaged almost a steal and a half per 36 minutes last year and you shouldn't be surprised to see that figure rise this season. His perimeter defense is what's going to help the big men down low and the smaller, less shifty point guard beside him.

There's plenty of promise for KCP, who turns only 22 in Feb. If he pieces it together, we could legitimately be talking about the Most Improved Player award winner by the end of the season, not Andre Drummond as some experts are predicting. (It would be the third player to win the award under Stan Van Gundy.)  And if that's the case, in the eyes of Pistons fans, every single player selected after KCP in the 2013 draft becomes a forgotten man.

Prediction

30 minutes, 14.5 points, 4 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 55% TS