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2016-17 Pistons review: Will the Pistons invest in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope?

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The time has come for the Pistons to make a major roster decision: Pay KCP or let him walk?

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Here is what potentially $20 million per year generates these days:

Kentavious Calwell-Pope’s 2016-17 final numbers: 13.8 points per game; 3.3 rebounds; 2.6 assists; 35 percent on three point attempts; 52 TS percent; -4.0 NETRTG; 19.1 USG percentage; oh and the Pistons went 4-2 without KCP in lineup.

When Kentavious Caldwell-Pope elected to not sign an extension with the Detroit Pistons before the deadline of October 31, 2016, it meant he would enter free agency (albeit restricted) come summer 2017.

Well, the summer is now only weeks away.

Detroit won 37 games and missed the playoffs; an argument can easily be made the Pistons could reach that low-hanging win total next year without the services of KCP and his looming price tag.

The flip side being he fits right into a growing core of Detroit players that could possibly contend in a post-LeBron Eastern Conference.

For the Pistons, they can match any offer thrown at KCP which begs the essential question: should they? It’s been debated ad nauseum on DBB and a consensus has hardly been met.

Before we put on our general manager hat, lets highlight his 2016-17 season.

October 26 at Toronto: Opening night didn’t fare too well for Caldwell-Pope and the Pistons as the home Raptors won easily 109-91. His four points came on 2-of-9 shooting in 38 minutes.

November 9 at Phoenix: Not including overtime games, KCP logged just shy of 42 minutes played, which was a season high. He scored 27 points including 5-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc. Again though, the Pistons lost 107-100 to a bad Phoenix Suns team.

November 21 vs Houston: Kentavious’ 26 points might headline the Pistons’ box score but his shared defensive effort on James Harden (6-of-17 shooting and six turnovers) that helped keep the Pistons close. Rockets 99, Pistons 96.

November 25 vs Los Angeles Clippers: In arguably the most impressive win on the year, KCP threw in 16 points and a season high 10 assists helping Detroit to a relatively easy 108-97 victory.

November 30 at Boston: Team high 25 points by Caldwell-Pope, five rebounds and four assists as the Pistons knocked off the eventual Eastern Conference number one seed 121-114 on the road.

January 8 at Portland: KCP put the Pistons up one with 9.4 seconds remaining in the second overtime of a 125-124 win over the home Trail Blazers.

January 12 at Golden State: A turning point game for Caldwell-Pope as fighting through a Zaza Pachulia screen came at a steep cost. He was forced to miss the next four games due to the shoulder injury and his production - both offensively and defensively - fell off over the remainder of the season.

February 1 vs New Orleans: Caldwell-Pope netted a career high 38 points in the 118-98 route of the New Orleans Pelicans. He was scorching hot beyond the arc shooting 8-for-11.

February 12 at Toronto: The Pistons outscored the Raptors 36-19 in the fourth quarter and KCP hit - what proved to be - the game winning shot giving Detroit a 102-101 win.

February 23 vs Charlotte: The Pistons rode another KCP hot streak in their 114-108 win over the Charlotte Hornets. He finished with a Pistons’ high 33 points, including seven of 15 beyond the long line.

March 4 at Philadelphia: KCP’s 9-of-11 shooting and 26 points helped the Pistons win and score a season high 136 on the lowly 76ers.

March 19 vs Phoenix: 23 points and eight assists for Caldwell-Pope in the Pistons 112-95 win against the Phoenix Suns.

****

The improvement

One of the loudest knocks on KCP’s offensive game heading into the season focused on scoring and creating off the bounce. While there is certainly a ways to go before declaring total comfort, Caldwell-Pope’s ball handling - without question - improved and was on parade this past season.

If you watched any amount Pistons’ basketball this season (God bless you for doing so), a familiar action was frequently used with an increased emphasis on showcasing KCP’s scoring and improved decision making:

Caldwell-Pope receiving a top-of-the-key handoff provided options to shoot, drive or pass:

By seasons end, KCP averaged a career high 2.6 assists which won’t be confused with the Steve Nashs of the world but it’s a generous step in the right direction. Also of note is the lowered turnover rate; the 2015-16 season saw KCP with a 1.31 assist-to-turnover ratio while this past season he registered 2.24.

One of the worst ways to determine a players worth is by measuring them with arbitrary numeric standards. 2.6 assists per game isn’t going to turn heads and seems semi-low for a backcourt player logging nearly 34 minutes per game but it’s a steady improvement which is the real story. Clear progression - in any major facet of the game - isn’t anything to take for granted.

For example, look at the continued scoring success Andre Drummond has experienced in his now complete post game over the past three years. Each summer, Dre came back with a new addition to his scoring repertoire and is now one of the most polished back-to-the-basket scorers in the league. Crawling, walking and finally running is what it’s all about.

Juuuuust making sure you’re paying attention but you get the point, KCP’s ball handling and passing continues to develop and that’s a good thing.

The stalemate

Novice watchers of basketball get in quick trouble when they mistake activity for achievement. They see a player hustling, diving on the floor, yelling and screaming and they wrongfully assume said player is a force to be reckoned with.

It’s the only way to answer how this happened:

Don’t do that. Don’t ever do that.

Russell Westbrook packs enough offensive horsepower on basketball court to make Dominic Torreto blush but a defensive juggernaut he is not.

In my humblest of opinions, I think some of that same logic applies to Caldwell-Pope.

Now, don’t get me wrong, KCP is a worthy individual defender but this notion he’s elite or even close to elite is way off base. His reputation carries redundant themes including a non-stop motor, an endless supply of puppy energy and many other hustle related catch phrases which lends itself to the idea he’s a top tier defender.

I take defensive analytic numbers with a grain of salt as there a number of variables that aren’t accounted for, so please do the same with the numbers below.

Per Synergy - KCP as the main defender:

Ball handler in a pick-and-roll: .872 PPP (grades out as average)

Spot up: 1.052 PPP (grades out as average)

Off screen: 1.017 PPP (grades out as average)

Per nba.com

DEFRTG - 107.7

Go ahead, poke holes in those crooked numbers, I do it without shame all the time.

None of that screams topflight, so clearly people are employing the eye test - which is what I do!

Again, let me reiterate, I believe KCP to be a good individual defender but not up to par on a team defending level.

Still only 24, he falls into glaring traps many young defenders dip into such as ball watching:

There always seems to be a communication let down:

Or prioritizing scoring threats:

Nothing is less convincing than a few cherry picked lowlights from some dude on the internet but I’d encourage you to watch him from a team defense level and then decide if he’s elite or not. After all, it’s a team sport.

Every game this season, Caldwell-Pope had a full plate on the defensive end having to cover up for a less-than Reggie Jackson or a too-small Ish Smith. It was quite the heavy burden and by and large, KCP did well.

Most 25 and under NBA players don’t fully grasp the concepts of team defense and a majority never entirely catch on. His present day prestige includes being a defensive star and it’s a stable talking point for the #PayKCP crowd but it’s not reality. What if it never becomes reality? $20 million per year give or take is market rate for 15 points and decent defense but is Detroit - and it’s already flawed roster - the right market? That’s a pretty big matzo ball hanging over the organization if the answer turns out to be no.

The unanswered

The other question mark heading into the season centered around shooting consistency and unfortunately it’s still an open-ended issue. Detroit’s offense was at times downright offensive and it usually revolved around the lack of shooting and therefor the lack of proper spacing on the floor.

35 percent from beyond the arc is rather uninspiring. In fact, here is a list of players from this past season who attempted three or more three pointers per game and shot 35 percent or higher. Keep scrolling, keep going. Yep, there he is.

Make no mistake, it was a glaring improvement on his 30 percent during the 2015-16 season which would suggest progression until you notice the 34 percent from 2014-15.

The ups and downs continue.

As noted earlier, the shoulder injury in mid-January took a lasting toll and it showed on the floor and in the box score.

Three point percentage percentage for the last three months of the season:

February - 33 percent

March - 30 percent

April - 18 percent

In terms of actual play, is there a more sizable turn-off than inconsistency?

As the year progressed, Caldwell-Pope developed a knack for creating contact on a three point attempt:

That’s a good thing, right?

Maybe.

Generating free throw attempts while shooting is in tune with winning basketball games but a problem arises when you are no longer looking to score and more interested in getting to the line. Instead of playing against your opponent, you’re hoping to entice the referee to call a foul.

That shit doesn’t fly in the playoffs as the whistle gets tighter for players without their own signature shoes:

So why develop bad habits in the regular season? Hopefully the league gets rid of or modifies that call (as they did with Kevin Durant’s rip-through). I’ve signed off on the heat-check transition three point attempt but don’t push your luck with me on this nonsense.

****

The 2016-17 was a disappointment on all levels but does a flat tire mean you need a new car? The decision to offer KCP a new contract is tough to answer without knowing the direction of the team moving forward. Do they plan on pivoting away from the established Jackson/Drummond dominated offense? If not, how could the front office justify spending a large lump of the salary cap on such a streaky shooter? The PNR philosophy is largely dependent on not just shot takers spreading the court but more importantly, shot makers. Does Caldwell-Pope qualify?

If things weren’t so cloudy regarding the point guard situation, it would make the decision to re-sign Caldwell-Pope much easier but again, it’s not Detroit’s reality. A best case scenario for Reggie Jackson includes a lot of fingers crossed scenarios and statements that start with “if” and progress to “then” as in:

IF Reggie Jackson can return to form THEN the Pistons will be back on track.

Relying on the positive side of “if,” however, is a losing bet. I mean, if you piss your pants, you can only stay warm for so long. The Pistons are on the hook for three more years of teeter totter if/thens with Jackson and already own a questionable centerpiece in Andre Drummond whose ceiling has arguably been met.

Versatility is an urgent commodity in present day NBA as the league continues to shift away from the glorified position based labels. Guys who can shoot and handle the ball are inherently more valuable than those who cannot effectively partake in both. Defenders who don’t need to be “hidden” will garner more crunch time minutes than those whose hand must be held on defense.

As-is, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is an average (at best) shooter with improving ball handling skills who can seamlessly switch against either backcourt player on defense. Conventional NBA wisdom would suggest the Pistons should secure such an asset for the foreseeable future.

Conventional won’t cut it in Detroit, though. Not how this roster has been assembled.

I’ve flipped flopped over this a hundred times and the fact we keep asking/debating speaks volumes in and of itself. Keeping both Jackson and Caldwell-Pope all most certainly guarantees fighting for the sixth through eighth seed for years to come. No thanks.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a winner and will have a successful career but through no fault of his own, I’m not certain his best days will be in a Pistons’ uniform.

Final answer in order of preference:

  1. Get rid of Jackson and sign KCP.
  2. Let both go.

.......

.......

10,286. Let KCP walk.

10,287. Sign Christopher Sauce to play the two guard.

10,288. Keep both KCP and Jackson.

Easy references

2015 - 16 player review

2016 - 17 player preview

KCP’s signature play

Caldwell-Pope’s DUI

Restricted free agency options

Game log