WHAT’D YOU SAY ABOUT KCP?!?!?
Yeah, I’ll say it. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is looking like the next great Pistons SG.
In the month of November, he put up a line of 15.7/3.3/3.2 and shot 40% on threes. That's over 17 games, including ten on the road.
He’s 23 years old.
Since the Pistons failed to come to an agreement with KCP on a contract extension prior to the start of this season, he’s essentially playing for a big contract. Based on what similar talents scored this past offseason, he’s aiming for a deal averaging around $20 million/year.
That’s a big investment for a player who’s been consistently inconsistent throughout his first three NBA seasons - at least as far as offense is concerned.
The chief criticism is that he’s "a shooting guard who can’t shoot.” And although that’s not entirely accurate, there’s a bit truth in there that’s hard to deny.
Your shooting guard does need to be able to shoot and/or score efficiently, especially when your offensive system is predicated upon surrounding your Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond pick and roll with shooters who can stretch defenses out to the long line.
Most DBB readers are aware of KCP’s history, so I’ll just sum it up as such - he’s been a good and sometimes great defender with a high motor and incredible stamina, but an incredibly streaky shooter with a below-average handle and inability to get to the FT line consistently.
His most vocal advocates have thus suggested that “if he could only get his shooting numbers up to a respectable level,” he’d be an above-average SG and worth signing to a near max deal. After all, finding a replacement for him on the free agent market will be difficult if not impossible given salary cap rules and well... young & talented scorers don’t grow on trees, you know.
I’m just going to leave this little comparison chart right below, so long-time Pistons fans can view KCP’s current season with a bit of relevant context.
This compares the PER-36 output of KCP, Joe Dumars and Rip Hamilton at Pope’s current age of 23.
Anyone who’s watched all three players play hundreds of actual games over the years knows that they’re all very different players.
Dumars was more of a combo guard, sharing PG duties with Isiah Thomas in that vaunted 3-guard rotation with Vinnie Johnson. He excelled at handling the ball, shooting mid-range jumpers and taking it to the hoop. He was also very skilled at drawing contact and getting to the line. And of course, Dumars was an excellent, if not athletically gifted defender who regularly gave Michael Jordan fits.
Hamilton was a pure SG who excelled at coming off screens and knocking down mid-range jumpers. His handle developed over time and he eventually added a reliable corner three, but his defense was pretty soft until the Goin' To Work crew gelled and became a solid defensive unit. He learned to use his quickness to frustrate opposing players, although his lack of strength was at times a liability on that end of the court.
So the numbers aren’t intended to imply that KCP is similar in style to either of those players. They’re intended to demonstrate that, at his current age, his actual production (so far!) isn’t that far off from two shooting guards who eventually helped the Pistons win Larry O’Brien trophies.
We all think of Rip as being a great mid-range shooter, but take a look at his 2PT percentage compared to KCP’s. That’s right, KCP is currently shooting more efficiently from inside the arc than Rip did at the same age. Hard to believe, isn’t it?
Then take a look at his 3PT percentage - identical to Rip’s thus far. The big difference is that Rip only took 42 threes that season, while KCP has already made 40 in just 20 games.
Yes, it's a different era. Yes, the three-pointer is more important in this day and age. But KCP is still bringing more offensive efficiency at his age than the guy who eventually became a key cog of a team that made six straight trips to the conference finals.
Let's take a look at the advanced stats.
Joe Dumars was a less productive player at 23 than KCP (so far!). Let that sink in a bit.
Their TS% is almost identical. Joe handled the ball more, and his TO percentage reflects that difference. But look at WS/48. KCP is about 50% more productive by that metric.
KCP’s TS% is also higher than Rip’s at 23 years of age. And the main reason it’s even close is that Rip got to the line much more frequently and made twice as many FT’s per game.
I'm cherry picking a bit here. And of course we're looking at a 20-game sample.
He has had a few months in previous years that come close to this level of production, so we’ll see if he can keep up the pace over a full season.
But... based on what we've seen thus far, he's progressing quite nicely given his age and experience. He's always been a good defender, and now he’s (possibly!) becoming a solid offensive player as well.
I'm sure the debate isn't over, and some would love to see a more established and fluid scorer in the starting lineup, but Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is starting to look like a SG who could be part of a contender.
We can only hope he keeps up at his current pace.