Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a player who, despite how good he was last season, continues to divide fan opinions. There are those who feel his ceiling is limited due to his inconsistent shooting numbers. Those people are shouted down by those who see a chance for KCP to become a devastating two-way weapon. One thing is clear, though, and that's that KCP was perhaps the most undervalued Piston player this year.
Like my review of Aron Baynes, which can be found here, we'll break it down into a few categories, showcasing the multidimensional talent that is Kentavious Tannell Caldwell-Pope.
A common argument against KCP is his inconsistencies as a shooter, which is nothing if not a fair statement. For someone who, coming into the league, was billed as an incredible shooter with defensive potential, it's funny how it's developed on the opposite course.
The main problem is his three point shooting, which was a career low 30.9 percent, after he got it up to 35 percent last season. What's even worse was that he was taking a hair under 5 threes a game (slightly less than last season), meaning that nearly 40 percent of his field goal attempts were three pointers. Even worse for him was that this was team-leading. KCP took 4.9 threes a game, beating out Reggie Jackson's 4.2 (35.3 percent) and Ersan Ilyasova's 4.1 (36.1 percent). Discounting Ersan and other traded players (sorry Tobias), KCP was taking far more three pointers than the team's best shooters factoring percentage and playing time (Marcus Morris and Anthony Tolliver).
KCP hit 31 percent of his threes, which is bad for a shooting guard. Add to that he hoisted 369 of them, 35 more than second place Reggie Jackson. By comparison, Morris and Tolliver, who both bested 36 percent from deep (still not great, but hey, best of a bad bunch here), took 298 and 272 threes respectively. Morris made 6 less threes, but in 71 fewer attempts.
The end game of this horrible section (I really don't like writing it but it has to be said) is to say that for KCP to really fulfill his offensive potential, he needs to improve his shot selection. His overall FG percentage of 42 percent isn't bad for a jumpshot heavy wing, but it is really dragged down by his long ball. His midrange game is actually respectable, going an incredible 47.6 percent in the 10-16 feet range, and 39.6 percent from 16 feet to the three point line. However, only 27 percent of his looks came from that range, and despite showing a penchant for a nice one dribble pull up mid range shot, he was quick to pull the trigger.
He was also a deadly finisher, converting 64% of his looks at the rim (by comparison, noted slasher Reggie Jackson was only at 58% at the hoop). In summary, unless he develops some more consistency, KCP really should be looking to attack off the dribble more, because he has displayed excellent ability both in the midrange and at the rim.
Where KCP really made his money was on the defensive end this season. At 6'5" with a 6'8" wingspan, he has both the length and athleticism to be a disruptive presence both as a ball stopper and defending off the ball. While his glamour defensive stats are modest (1.4 steals and 0.2 blocks per game), his real strength is contesting shots and making you miss. He also contributed more win shares on the defensive end of the floor, with 2.7 compared to 2.6 offensive win shares.
KCP held his direct opponents to 42 percent shooting from the field, according to NBA.com and their defensive tracking dashboard. This is below their usual marks of 43.8 percent, showing that KCP is forcing players to miss, but a percentage less than two points lower isn't really that special, because of a number of factors. First, this is the NBA and players are going to get hot and hit shots regardless (looking at you Anthony Davis). Secondly, basic regression and mean analysis will tell you that players are more or less going to have an average game most of the time. Third, NBA offenses are designed to get players open (no shit Ben, what cereal box did you get that analysis from). And lastly, with help and collapsing defense, it's impossible to contest every shot.
Considering KCP's position, most of his defense is on the wing, and therefore, most of the shots he's contesting are jump shots. Again, according to NBA.com, 33.2 percent of the shots he contested were three pointers. KCP held his direct opponents to 33.3 percent three-point shooting for the season, a full three percentage points lower than their average 36.3 percent. This is extra impressive if you remember some of the matchups he's had, as he usually gets cast onto the opposition's danger man, like Stephen Curry or DeMar DeRozan. If we expand the range slightly to include all shots defended from outside 15 feet, this makes up 58.3 percent of his contested shots, holding players to 36 percent instead of their usual 37.6 percent. Basically, whichever way you look at it, KCP is a beast at defending the opposition's shot.
But all this is just boring without VIDEO EVIDENCE. Below I've embedded some clips which I feel showcase KCP's absurd defensive athleticism. You'll find a couple of noteworthy blocks, as well as full game highlights of him "putting the clamps on".
KCP blocks Rodney Hood to win the game
Only the second game of the season, and he's already making highlights.
KCP strips LeBron and goes coast to coast
This play showcases some hidden strength, as well as great timing. Not many can rip the ball from Lebron's grasp (Brandon Jennings managed it a couple of years ago), and yet KCP get's two hands on it, doesn't foul Lebron (I'm shocked as well), and reefs it out before finishing the play on the other end with the athletic scoop.
KCP blocks LeBron's three
I wasn't not going to put this in. Incredible timing on the chase down.
KCP clamps down on Steph Curry
Going into this game, Curry was averaging 33.9ppg on 55.3 percent shooting. KCP held him (as much as you can anyway) to 22 points shooting 38.9 percent, while finding time to post 15 points himself.
KCP clamps down on Russell Westbrook
KCP holds the uber athletic Westbrick to 5-14 shooting, while forcing him into a mind boggling 11 turnovers. And to put cherry on top, Russ also fouled out.
KCP Defensive Orgy
If the above clips don't get you going, here's a 5 minute highlight reel of smothering defense, soul crushing blocks and stealthy steals.
To round out this review, we can't talk about KCP without talking about conditioning. KCP ended up 4th in the league in minutes per game, at 36.7 per game, behind only James Harden, Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler. KCP never seems to look tired, consistently smothering offensive players on the defensive end and running off endless screens for the full 48 minutes.
KCP only missed six games this season, due to a "core muscle strain" sustained after slipping on a wet spot in Boston on the parquet. In those six games it was really shown how vital he was, as defense suffered and there was no real hustle on either end.
Now to pull a stat out of nowhere, since he was drafted in 2013, KCP is 45th in the league in total minutes played over that span, at 6,959 total minutes (Reggie Jackson is 44th at 6,969). This may seem like a workaday stat, until you remember the fact that KCP was stuck in limbo between starting and DNPs in his rookie season under Mo Cheeks and John Loyer (shudders).
Value in Draft Class
Just a quick note here, but the 2013 draft class is largely viewed as a weak one, especially if we look at the top 10. Anthony Bennett is out of the league as the first pick, and the rest of the top 10 is pretty unspectacular. There were some great later picks, like Giannis and Rudy Gobert, but for all the muck drafted around him (Trey Burke), KCP has turned out to be a pseudo-steal.
In his draft class, he's 3rd in total minutes behind only Victor Oladipo and Greek Freak, 4th in points behind those two and Michael Carter-Williams, 3rd in steals behind Oladipo and MCW, and first in threes made (Trey Burke is second, lol). He is also first in attempted threes but it's okay because he's made enough to be first in made.
In a redraft (yes, I hate these but whatever), Giannis and Rudy Gobert probably move into the top 4 or so, but you could make a case that KCP is a top 5 pick from that draft.*
*PS: Matthew Dellavedova went undrafted in 2013, what a draft class
KCP has flaws as an inconsistent shooter, but the defense he provides, and his amazing conditioning means that he should be a Pistons fan favorite for years to come. Improve that three pointer, and we're talking All-Star. KCP is up for an extension this offseason, and while I don't think he'll sign one for the same reason Andre Drummond didn't, don't be surprised to see KCP in the Motor City dominating fools for years to come.
Thanks Joe Dumars, for picking someone I had never heard of, and thank you Trey Burke for looking awful enough to justify him.
Stand up for the Pope.