KCP, Dinwiddie could give Pistons great defensive flexibility in seasons to come

Stan Van Gundy envisions the day not too far down the road when Spencer Dinwiddie and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope give him a great defensive option in the Pistons backcourt.
Nick Laham/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

The Pistons return the two point guards who played virtually every meaningful minute for them last season, Brandon Jennings and Will Bynum. They signed two guards in free agency, Jodie Meeks and D.J. Augustin, who are in the prime and coming off career seasons.

So Stan Van Gundy will have plenty of options to consider as he configures his backcourt for the season ahead. But one combination that has him intrigued already is one he’ll have to wait on for a little bit, most likely – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Spender Dinwiddie.

Time is on his side, at least. Caldwell-Pope and Dinwiddie are both only 21. But they’ve both made an impression on Van Gundy in the weeks since he signed on to run the show for Tom Gores from both the sideline and front office.

Van Gundy knew when he drafted Dinwiddie in late June that his availability for the season ahead was uncertain. He also knew that’s the only reason he had the chance to draft the Colorado junior 38th overall. The ACL tear Dinwiddie suffered in mid-January pushed him out of lottery consideration and, ultimately, the entire first round. At that spot in the draft, the chance to land a potential impact player made Dinwiddie an easy choice for the Pistons.

Van Gundy said at the time he had no expectations for Dinwiddie for this season, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to hold the rookie back if his rehabilitation dictates differently.

“We want to follow his rehabilitation,” he said. “When he hits certain points and he’s able to do more, he does more. We don’t want to get caught up in the calendar as much as what’s going on with his knee.”

Dinwiddie has been obedient in following orders to not talk about a timetable for his return, but it’s no secret he wants to be ready sooner rather than later. And Pistons physical therapist Arnie Kander has said Dinwiddie is an ideal candidate to return at full strength based on the makeup of his knee and his running stride. Whenever that time comes, Van Gundy is excited about what he has in Dinwiddie.

“No. 1, he’s a big guard and those guys have tremendous advantages in terms of their ability to see the floor,” he said. “He’s a pass-first point guard who can score rather than a scoring point guard who can pass. There’s a little bit of a difference there. I think he’s a very, very competitive guy who can figure out what it takes to get it done in games.

“And then the other thing he provides, because of his size, is a lot of flexibility on the defensive end. You can switch more pick and rolls because of his size. You can take a guy like KCP with tremendous quickness and put him on point guards because now you’re big enough to play that way. At any position, size for the position is always a major benefit, but I think he’s a rare 6-6 guy who is a true point guard, sees the game like a point guard, thinks the game like a point guard and knows how to get other people involved.”

Dinwiddie wasn’t yet in the fold when Van Gundy came to the Pistons and Caldwell-Pope surely wasn’t as squarely in his plans before his breakout Summer League performance, averaging 24 points and seven rebounds a game.

“He opened my eyes a lot,” Van Gundy said. “More than anything what opened my eyes was the intensity and energy he brings to the floor every time he plays. He’s an all-out guy all the time – practices, games. The other thing I saw is a real competitive side to him that I wasn’t really aware of but I saw a real resolve and toughness and competitiveness that I came out excited just by his approach and his mental makeup in the way he goes about things.”

Van Gundy has set steady improvement as a major goal for the season ahead. The expectation is that the depth he added will lead to consistently high effort and, as the Pistons develop chemistry and grow more comfortable over time with his defensive scheme, they’ll show consistent progress.

But another reason they figure to get better week over week is the upside of players like Andre Drummond – he joined Caldwell-Pope and Dinwiddie as 21-year-olds by celebrating his birthday Sunday – and the two young guards who might someday soon form a rangy and multitalented backcourt.