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Pistons add size, athleticism and deep shooting with Caldwell-Pope

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
The Pistons selected Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with the 8th overall pick.
Jesse D. Garrabrant (NBAE/Getty)
Joe Dumars pulled no punches: The Pistons went into Thursday’s draft with a laser focus on drafting an athlete who could beat everyone from one end of the floor to the other and stretch it to give Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe maximum room to operate around the rim.

They snowed everyone who believed they were hoping someone like Anthony Bennett might fall to them as Monroe, Brandon Knight and Drummond had the last three years, or that they were agonizing over the merits of point guards Trey Burke, Michael Carter-Williams and C.J. McCollum.

All along, they were fixated on one of the two shooting guards they believed would give them major jolts of size, athleticism and perimeter shooting: Ben McLemore and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

When Phoenix took Maryland 7-footer Alex Len at No. 5, both McLemore and Caldwell-Pope were on the board. Dumars said every indication he knew pointed at New Orleans passing on a shooting guard, so he knew one of this two coveted targets would be available. Sacramento grabbed McLemore at No. 7, leaving Caldwell-Pope to the Pistons at No. 8.

“When you look at our board, there is not a name up there where we say ‘two guard,’ ” Dumars said, talking about his team’s depth chart. “We have Khris Middleton and Kyle Singler (at small forward); we have (Rodney) Stuckey and Brandon (Knight), who are more combo guards. But just in terms of wing athletes, we don’t have enough and it was a position we knew we had to fill. When you look at the game today, you see more of the wing-athletic-shooters and you have to have that. It was time for us to address that.”

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Kentavious Caldwell-Pope Interview (audio)

Caldwell-Pope, 20, was Southeastern Conference Player of the Year after averaging 18.5 points for an undermanned Georgia team that was left out of the NCAA tournament. More than half of his shot attempts during his sophomore season (225 of 430) were 3-pointers and he hit 37 percent. But he’s not just a shooter. Caldwell-Pope also rebounded at a high rate (7.1) and picked up two steals a game.

“He puts it on the floor some,” Dumars said, “but what we like about him is that – we saw it before we went to the predraft camp – his speed on the floor. Once we went to the predraft camp, I think he and Shane Larkin might have been the two fastest guys there. We liked the fact this is someone who can really get out and run and can also spread the floor. When you’ve got two bigs like Greg and Andre, you’ve got to be able to spread the floor.”

Caldwell-Pope’s three-quarter court sprint time was 3.12, bested only by diminutive point guard Larkin at 3.08.

“I have a lot to offer,” Caldwell-Pope said. “I can shoot the ball, I can defend around the perimeter. I also rebound my position. I’m pretty quick with my hands. I get a lot of steals. Just bringing that and also my shooting ability is going to really open up things for my team.”

The Pistons interviewed Caldwell-Pope at the NBA draft combine in Chicago last month, then he came to Detroit on Monday, having dinner with Dumars and others and spending time at the team’s practice facility. He didn’t work out for them due to a slight hamstring injury.

Dumars and assistant general manager George David scouted Caldwell-Pope early in the season when Georgia played on consecutive nights at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, where Caldwell-Pope struggled. But his play picked up steadily over the course of the season and, as teams revisited him once he declared for the draft, he was one of the players rising fastest on draft boards. Most believed Minnesota – which ultimately traded out of its pick at No. 9 – was going to grab him one pick after the Pistons.

“He had to carry a huge load with his program down at Georgia,” Dumars said. “One thing we liked about him is that he knew he couldn’t take any nights off with his team and so he brought it every night. There was not one night he wasn’t out there trying to get it. He’s got a really, really high motor and he’s trying to get it every night. That just jumped out to us. This is not a guy who’s taking nights off.”

Dumars also said Caldwell-Pope’s defensive tenacity was appealing.

“One other thing we really liked about him in particular is this is a kid who plays both sides of the ball,” he said. “He’s a fierce defender and a great 3-point shooter and can really get out and fill a lane. We feel like we didn’t have enough of that.”

Dumars said Knight will continue to play both positions and also said that the quest to add size, athleticism and 3-point shooting won’t stop at Caldwell-Pope.

“We needed to get more wing athletes here and I can take it a step forward and tell you when we get into free agency, we’re still going to try to address that,” he said. “You need multiple wing athletes in today’s NBA.”