The first time I tried riding a dirtbike as a kid, I forgot to ask how to stop once I got started. Could have just eased off the throttle, hit the brakes, pulled in the clutch, any would have worked. Instead, I ran into a fence.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope plays like a dirtbike with the brakes removed, the throttle super-glued all the way back.
I never went to a beach over spring break in college, but I have seen 22 Jump Street. I've also been to New Orleans and Las Vegas. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a college spring break, Big Easy during Mardi Gras, a weekend in Vegas, all three wrapped up in one.
He is a walking vodka Red Bull. He is the real Professor Chaos. Instead of water, he consumes a nitromethane blend typically reserved for drag racing fuel.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has grown this season into such an interesting player. He's turned potential into actual results, putting up the best numbers of his career on both ends of the floor. An extra two points per game with a two percentage point increase in true shooting percentage, more assists, more rebounds, more steals, an improved offensive and defensive rating, the lowest allowed field goal percentage on the team.
And all of that as he's just celebrated his 23rd birthday. But he's still a polarizing player.
KCP is such an extremely aggressive player and not all of his skills have caught up with his aggressiveness. At times, that produces some ugly shooting lines. He's had three 5-15 shooting lines this season. He's gone 1-10, 1-11, 2-15. Went 3-13 on Saturday night.
It's easy to see those nights and label him as an inconsistent player. But KCP has actually been one of the team's most consistent. Check out his monthly split numbers, particularly the true shooting percentage. For the most part, you've been able to set your watch to Caldwell-Pope as a 51-52 percent true shooting percentage guy.
Now, 52 percent isn't something to write home about. It's about average for shooting guards. But the important thing about this is that he's been able to put up an average shooting efficiency while not being able to hit his three point shot. In the past, his efficiency has been completely reliant on knocking down three pointers at least 36 percent of the time. If he didn't hit that mark, his TS was ugly.
This year, Caldwell-Pope hasn't hit 36 percent from three once over the course of a month this season. That's not a good thing, of course, but the fact that he's been able to improve his efficiency while struggling from three is a very good thing.
If we go with the spring break example, KCP's going as an upper classman. He's still going full speed, but with enough experience so that the good outweighs the bad. But hey, it wouldn't be spring break without some questionable decisions.
You see those come out like last Monday's game against the Bucks, when Caldwell-Pope took a trio of aggressive three-point shots down the stretch despite not looking good from range all game. Or his memorable airball from three in transition late in a tight game against the Pelicans.
In the end though, it's the percentages that matters. And in the end, KCP's true shooting percentage is 52 percent and he has 59 percent effective field percentage in transition. The good outweighs the bad to show an above average player on the offensive end.
The mentality that takes those shots is part of what makes Caldwell-Pope so unique. He steps onto the court with a fearlessness that you want in a player. It's that fearlessness that when Stephen Curry shows up, the toast of the league, KCP shuts him down.
Ideally a player learns the balance of when to be deferential, but having deferential as the predominant trait can be damning. One of Caldwell-Pope's draft peers, Ben McLemore, is a great example. McLemore had the size, tools, and sweet shooting touch to get consideration as the top overall pick. But he fell on draft day due to a rather passive style, and that passivity has led to his career so far being rather shrug-worthy.
The important part with Caldwell-Pope is that he has learned how to be effective offensively in the NBA, thanks in a large part to improvements inside the arc and drawing more fouls (where he's also knocking them down better).
Caldwell-Pope has shown flashes that he can shoot. He's had several months over 40 percent from three in his short career and shot 48 percent from deep in the preseason. Stan Van Gundy said he shot 60 percent in training camp. Hopefully, his current 30 percent represents a low-water mark. But that hope that KCP has better days ahead of him as a three point shooter has at least some statistical basis.
That pushes his ceiling awfully high. If Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can get his three point shooting up to 38 percent-ish with other parts remaining the same, we'd be looking at approximately a 56 percent true shooting percentage player.
It's a similar situation to when I wrote about Reggie Jackson's star potential last season, in that potential is tricky what with the balance between tantalizing and fulfilling. But there's an important similarity to Jackson last year, in that even if KCP never becomes that great three-point shooter, he's still an above average shooting guard.
And it's also important that there's a clear path to excellence in that three-point shooting. Compare that to Andre Drummond. For Dre the jump is more like excellent to elite, but the comparison still works. For back-to-back seasons now, Drummond has posted 50 percent true shooting percentage after averaging 59 percent his first two seasons. His offensive rating has dropped from 119 to 104. This is almost entirely due to an increase in his post up possessions and free throws.
Obviously, Drummond has seen a big increase in his free throws due to Hack-A-Drummond. While his post game has seen improvements, it's not a big improvement - just .69 points per possession to .73. He still dramatically trails more efficient post players like Brook Lopez or LaMarcus Aldridge's .96 and 1 PPP respectively. And this season Drummond leads the league in post up attempts after finishing 12th last season, so his volume has increased dramatically.
With two drastic efficiency holes in his game, it's tough to see where his path to above average efficiency exists. He is what he is from the line. Perhaps Adam Silver bails out the free throws, perhaps he improves his shot selection from the post, but both would take major changes.
Not to turn this into a KCP versus Dre argument, this is just to show that KCP's potential is reasonably attainable.
Whether you like Caldwell-Pope or you don't, whether you agree with his potential and its attainability, one thing we can all appreciate is his uniqueness. That unique starts with his balls-to-the-walls play.
Shutting down transition opportunities.
Blocking the shit out of transition opportunities.
Occasionally playing like a cat having a seizure, for both better and worse.
This guy is fun. This guy is an original. Enjoy him. Appreciate him.
At the end of the day, this is a continually improving 23-year-old shooting guard who plays harder than anyone else on the court, faster than anyone else, with complete commitment to defense, and a toughness won't down to anyone.
That's the kind of guy I want playing for the Detroit Pistons.