The Detroit Pistons have lost three straight games to open up their first playoff berth in seven years. Given that no NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit, it is safe to say that the Pistons will not knock LeBron James out of the playoffs this April. However, this series has proven that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is ready to be more than a supporting piece, more than just an athletic defender with a jump shot.
In the three games that have been played so far, 23-year-old Caldwell-Pope has been Detroit’s bright spot. He has led his team in scoring with 17.3 points per game. He has only had two turnovers throughout the series, despite playing nearly 40 minutes per game, another team-high.
Caldwell-Pope has been using more energy than usual on the offensive end because his team needed scoring. The important part is that his defense has not suffered at all. The Cavs have a much harder time producing offense when Caldwell-Pope is on the floor.
|Cleveland Offense||Points per 100 possessions||FG %||3PT FG %|
|Caldwell-Pope on the court||113.8||46.3%||34.5%|
|Caldwell-Pope on the bench||132.9||54.1%||45.5%|
It is true that Kyrie Irving has had a great offensive series, but that should not count as a fault of Caldwell-Pope. Irving is only shooting 2% better than his regular season rate, but caught fire from three-point range. He has also been taking more shots, leading to an increase in scoring. Reggie Jackson has spent some time guarding Irving, which the Cavs’ point guard has taken advantage of.
KCP has always had a tremendously high motor. In high school, he played basketball, football, baseball, and ran track. He could never be found inside, as he was constantly active in any way possible. This theme holds true today, as he averaged the fourth-most minutes out of all NBA players this season.
Despite his high energy levels, Caldwell-Pope was not always the elite defender that he is today. In high school, his game was centered around his offense; he averaged 31 points his senior year as an All-American.
He learned defense during his freshman year at Georgia; undisciplined defending would lead to early foul trouble, forcing him to come out of the game. His energy and passion made him want to stay on the floor, so he locked down. This helped him earn SEC Player of the Year honors as a sophomore, and avoid further criticism from his coach.
Ever since then, tough defense has become an addiction for Caldwell-Pope. He takes on the opposing team’s best player on a nightly basis, gracefully accepting the challenge. On average, players shoot 42% when guarded by KCP, which is roughly 3% below the league average. This is even more impressive when considering that he is usually guarding proven NBA scorers.
Head coach Stan Van Gundy recognizes the significance of Caldwell-Pope’s defensive prowess.
“I think that every night he draws our toughest perimeter assignment, and he’s played absolutely huge minutes. It’s not easy to do,” said Van Gundy. “It’s not like you can go out there and just use all your energy for six minutes and get a rest.”
Backcourt mate Reggie Jackson identified that his own offensive effectiveness in the regular seasons (19 points, 6 assists) should be partly attributed to Caldwell-Pope. With KCP taking on the burden of guarding the other team’s best offensive player, Jackson says that it “allows me to have plays off and guard the wing who’s not necessarily offensive prone.”
Caldwell-Pope has had many big performances that do not always show up on the stat sheet. For example, on November 27th he was given the seemingly impossible task of slowing down Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook. Caldwell-Pope answered the call, limiting Russ to 14 points and 4 assists on 5/14 shooting. More notably, he forced the All-NBA guard into a season-high 11 turnovers.
Caldwell-Pope has made a name for himself through his defense. But the third-year pro has shown steady and promising growth in all aspects of his game since coming into the league. His points, assists, rebounds, FG%, and steals have all increased each year.
Caldwell-Pope ranks 10th out of all shooting guards in Real Plus-Minus. He also ranks 18th in Offensive Real Plus-Minus, higher than players such as Andrew Wiggins, Bradley Beal, and Jamal Crawford. This displays his positive effect on both ends of the floor.
During Detroit’s first-round series vs. Cleveland, KCP has shown that he does not shy away from the moment. He played 43 minutes in Game 3, accumulating 18 points and 4 steals on 7/14 shooting. He was a source of energy. With four minutes left, he beat LeBron down the court for a fast-break dunk to pull the game within two points.
The Pistons drafted Caldwell-Pope eighth overall in 2013 because they saw tantalizing potential. That potential has officially translated into gratifying production. Although Detroit may not be making a deep playoff run this spring, they have a brighter future than most NBA teams. “The Pope” adds a vital dimension to the team’s young core, ensuring that Detroit will be back in the playoffs for years to come.
photo via llananba