As a rookie two years ago, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope lucked into a starting job. The team needed a starting shooting guard and KCP was essentially the only candidate.
Rodney Stuckey might have been the best choice, but he had only found his groove the previous year after moving to the bench. Kyle Singler was a starter for most of 2012-13 but with a new jumbo frontcourt of Josh Smith along with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, moving another player up one spot from their natural position didn't make much sense.
Chauncey Billups started the season out as the starter, but was out of position and ineffective. Billups had struggled with injuries the two prior seasons and seven games into the season, knee tendinitis pushed him back to the sidelines.
That left the 20-year-old rookie Caldwell-Pope as the only logical choice.
As the incumbent for the new coach Stan Van Gundy last summer, KCP started all 82 games last season despite the typical struggles young players face. But in year three, and with competition for the spot, it's time for Caldwell-Pope to prove he deserves that starting job.
2014-15 Year in Review
After a reasonably successful rookie year, Caldwell-Pope was a popular choice as a breakout candidate last season.
It made sense. KCP made a big jump from his freshman to sophomore season at Georgia and was jerked around to the close of the season by coaches Maurice Cheeks and John Loyer. Despite gaining the starting job early in the season after the 2013-14 All Star break, Caldwell-Pope averaged just 13 minutes per game.
He never really had an opportunity to close his rookie season strong. Except for the final game when he was back in the starting lineup and put up 30 points. He looked hungry during the ensuing Summer League and it was easy to believe.
But that breakout never quite came to fruition.
It wasn't a bad year, by any means. Looking at his numbers, it's not far off what Packey was looking for in predicting his breakout season. Instead of 14.5 points, 4 rebounds, and 1.5 steals, it was 13 points, 3 rebounds, and 1.1 steal.
Still, KCP fell short in a few key areas. First was his scoring efficiency. He took a step forward from his 48 percent true shooting as a rookie to 50 percent, but it was still short of the league average for shooting guards of 53 percent.
Part of the blame is due to an absurd home/road split.
Another part has to do with shot selection. Caldwell-Pope took a lot of long twos and wasn't very good at them. From 16 feet to just inside the three point line represented 14 percent of his field goal attempts and he converted just 34 percent. Meanwhile only 22 percent of his shots came at the rim, despite being a strong finisher.
Settling for jumpers rather than attacking the rim also showed up in his free throw rate. Getting to the line was a major reason for his improvement as a sophomore at Georgia as he averaged 5.3 free throw attempts per game, but he hasn't yet brought that part of his game to Detroit. Last season he averaged less than two free throws per game, shooting just .16 free throw for every field goal attempt. That was one of the lowest marks on the team last season. At Georgia for his strong sophomore season, he averaged .39 free throws for each field goal attempt.
Caldwell-Pope was tantalizing as a defender as well. Despite looking terrific in the eye test, his numbers weren't great. Opposing players actually shot better than their average against him by a difference of 2.5 percent and he especially struggled to defend inside the arch. He was also prone to fouling during the shot, charged with 82 shooting fouls.
As a whole, his outcomes on the defensive end haven't really resembled his athleticism, demeanor, and reputation.
Combine a shooting guard who is struggling with efficiency on offense and effectiveness on defense, you're left with a below average player. Advanced metrics agree. Caldwell-Pope earned just .45 wins produced per 48 minutes and .52 win shares per 48 minutes, with .100 as the average.
It's not necessarily all that bleak of a picture. He needs to play better, sure, but KCP did some nice things last season. He finished 14th in the league in three pointers made. He had the 14th lowest turnover percentage. He was a strong catch-and-shoot player. He did things like this:
Detroit Pistons (@DetroitPistons) February 28, 2015
2015-16 Projected Production
Now it's just time to put it all together.
There's no question that the talent is there. Considering KCP led the team in minutes and shot attempts, it's safe to figure that the opportunity is there.
But unlike previous seasons, he may have competition breathing down his neck. Jodie Meeks was sneakily good in the second half of last season and, unlike last season, is healthy to open the season. Once Brandon Jennings returns from his Achilles injury, he'll be looking for more minutes than a backup point guard typically demands. Or if Stanley Johnson forces his way onto the court, Stan Van Gundy has said shooting guard may be a possibility.
Any of these three could be legitimate threats for the starting shooting guard spot. But it's still Caldwell-Pope's job to lose.
Van Gundy was vocal in his praise of KCP throughout training camp, saying he was one of the best players on the team throughout. "He's made shots at a high rate, he's not turned the ball over and defensively he's been really good," Van Gundy said. "He's in fabulous shape, he's always had a really good motor and he's just getting better. He understands the game better. He's not playing too fast — which he's had a tendency to do. It seems like he's maturing."
All critical aspects of Caldwell-Pope's improvement for the coming year. He also had the added benefit from the coaching staff's expansion and retention, having daily summer workouts with Grand Rapids Drive assistant coach Dion Glover where they focused on building strength and ball-handling.
At times last season, Caldwell-Pope had more responsibility forced on his shoulders than he probably should have. With more stability this season and a system that plays into his strength in the catch-and-shoot, he should benefit. Playing alongside a big man who can stretch the floor to create more space to drive could help as well, particularly to up those trips to the line.
Caldwell-Pope is once again a popular breakout candidate, DBB's Jason Brunskowski pegging him as the Piston most likely to take his game to a new level. It's definitely reasonable to look for strides out of the third year player. Although it may look more like the breakout being looked for last season.
If nothing else, Caldwell-Pope has at least left one storyline in the rearview mirror: Trey Burke.
Many fans had their draft hopes set on the point guard from Michigan and were disappointed to hear the lesser-known guard from Georgia called instead. But these days, Caldwell-Pope is crafting a new narrative from that draft - pushing toward becoming the best shooting guard out of a talented class that included Victor Oladipo and Ben McLemore. Playing to his potential this year, he could earn that status.
14 points, 52 percent TS, 2 three point shots, 37 percent, 3 rebounds, 1.5 steals