Second-Half Surge

KCP’s late-season push showed up in Pistons analytical assessment

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
Over two nights last November, NBA scouts flocked to Brooklyn’s new Barclays Center. The main attractions were Indiana sophomore center Cody Zeller and UCLA debuting freshman Shabazz Muhammad. Those dozens of scouts couldn’t have known it then, but there were three other lottery prospects on display over those two nights – more than one-third of the 2013 NBA lottery’s 14 picks.

Georgetown sophomore Otto Porter was considered a mid-first rounder at the time before establishing himself as a lottery prospect starting with an impressive showing in Brooklyn. Indiana junior Victor Oladipo was seen as athletic and tenacious but not much else, perhaps a late first-rounder at best, before he also launched a breakthrough season with impressive outings in Brooklyn. And Georgia sophomore Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was on the watch list but not considered very likely to enter the NBA draft in 2013.

The most ballyhooed of the five at the time, Muhammad, wound up being the last of the five picked, 14th. Indiana teammates Oladipo and Zeller went second and fourth, sandwiched around Porter.

Caldwell-Pope, of course, went eighth to the Pistons, and to the extent it’s possible for a McDonald’s All-American playing in a BCS conference to fly under the radar, that’s pretty much what the 6-foot-6 shooting guard did.

Scouts caught their glimpse of Caldwell-Pope in Brooklyn and, with no other reason to scout Georgia, he probably was viewed in person by high-ranking NBA executives during the college season fewer times than anyone with the likely exception of C.J. McCollum, who missed two-thirds of Lehigh’s season with a broken foot. And McCollum, a senior, was already well known after flirting with the draft a year earlier in the wake of his 30-point outing in Lehigh’s 2012 NCAA tournament upset of second-seeded Duke.

Once Caldwell-Pope declared for the draft, though, and NBA front offices narrowed their focus to draft-eligible players, his stock began a persistent rise from the 20s into the lottery and finally the top 10, where it was widely assumed Minnesota would take him with the No. 9 pick – a suspicion all but confirmed when the Timberwolves immediately traded down after the Pistons picked Caldwell-Pope.

Joe Dumars and Pistons assistant general manager George David were among the NBA executives at Barclays Center. They left with mixed thoughts on Caldwell-Pope, who averaged 15 points in the two Georgia losses, shooting 9 for 28 with 18 of his shots coming from the 3-point arc and only two made baskets inside the arc over both games. They got different, more glowing reports from other members of the front-office staff who followed up on Caldwell-Pope later in the season, though, and saw a different player when they delved into the catalog of his videotape in preparation for the draft.

What their eyes told them, analytics confirmed for them. David wouldn’t go into detail about what metrics the Pistons used in Caldwell-Pope’s particular case, but offered one example. In pace-adjusted, per-40 minute stats, Caldwell-Pope’s second half of his sophomore season was dramatically improved over earlier performances.

"It definitely helped to confirm some of our beliefs," he said. "We looked at his numbers in the second half of the season against only top-ranked teams and his numbers were off the charts."

In those games against only quality opponents, Caldwell-Pope shot 31 percent over the season’s first half vs. 41 percent in the second half. His pace-adjusted scoring went from 18.7, David said, to 25.2. They ranked him by various measures against the other top-ranked shooting guards in the draft and saw he was consistently at or very near the top across the board.

"Here’s a guy who was OK in Brooklyn and all of a sudden a Player of the Year in the SEC," David said. "If those second half of the season numbers were the same in the first half, he wouldn’t have been there at eight. If you had only caught him in the first half of the season, he might have gotten lost in the mix."

While David seconds the notion that one area Caldwell-Pope will need to improve is his ballhandling, he believes something less than a dramatic leap can yield significant results. He draws a comparison in that regard to Eric Gordon’s transition from Indiana to the NBA.

"When he came out of Indiana, Gordon either took a 3 or he took it extremely hard to the basket. There was very little mid-range game. There are differences in their two games, but Gordon never really developed a mid-range game as a pro. What he did was really refined his ability to finish strong at the basket and draw fouls as well as become an even better 3-point shooter. He doesn’t have to go from here to way up there; it’s just simply a matter of being able to execute one or two dribbles effectively to get to his spots."

What the Pistons believe about Caldwell-Pope is that during his adjustment period to the NBA, even if his offensive production takes a while to catch up to his potential on that end, his motor and defensive ability will make him an asset.

"With him, the No. 1 thing he’s got going for him coming in the front door is his motor," David said. "He’s a two-way player. He plays on both ends. What’s going to really help him is as he’s developing skills-wise, he plays so hard on the defensive end that it’s going to help him impact games as a pro while his skills are still developing. That’s a big thing."