Off and Running

Draft picks flash their athleticism as Pistons win Summer League opener

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Tony Mitchell put some highlight-reel plays together in their Summer League debuts.
Jesse D. Garrabrant (NBAE/Getty)
ORLANDO – It was as rough and ragged as you’d expect of a Summer League opener, but one clearly discernible impression emerged from the muck and mire of the Pistons’ turnover-plagued 76-67 win over Brooklyn: Joe Dumars’ draft-night plan to increase his team’s athleticism was accomplished.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope missed his first eight shots Sunday and finished with four points, but made two eye-grabbing plays to underscore the skill set that enticed the Pistons into using the No. 8 pick on the Georgia sophomore.

The only shot he attempted inside of 18 feet in the first half was a dunk where he took off one very long stride from the rim and soared well above it – and a Brooklyn shot-blocker – forcing a hard foul as he crammed the ball into the back rim. Seconds later, he recovered defensively along the baseline from the weak side to swat away a layup attempt.

“Who would’ve thought he was going to come down the lane and try to dunk on somebody that’s a lot bigger than him?” Andre Drummond grinned after the game. “I didn’t know he had it in him. I thought he was just a shooter, but he told me he had bounce and he proved it. I’m looking forward to more stuff he does.”

“That game shows you what kind of player he is,” assistant coach Maz Trakh, running the Summer League entry, said afterward. “He may not have shot the ball well, but it never affected his defensive game. You can’t teach that. He played the whole game. He’s going to make shots, because he’s a shooter. But I’m very, very happy with the way he played for his first NBA game. Defensively, he was there.”

Second-rounder Tony Mitchell, meanwhile, finished with seven points, six boards and two blocked shots, though he disrupted or contested at least twice that many. His most jaw-dropping moment came when he snared an offensive rebound in traffic and with no room to gather himself, went up and dunked anyway.

“He just jumps out of the gym,” said the third Pistons draftee, point guard Peyton Siva. “He jumps in the air and thinks about what he’s going to do throughout the whole day and he finally comes down to the ground. We’re definitely more athletic with those guys and with Andre, you have a great athletic team.”

“He can get a little over the rim, which is pretty nice,” Trakh said. “I know Detroit’s the Motor City, but we’ve got a motor player in him. He just goes after everything. It’s fun watching him play, because he’s a sponge. Any time you call him over or any time the coaches talk to him, he picks something up and then he does it the very next play. You’ve got to be happy with him.”

Siva’s performance was more understated, but in a game that featured 45 turnovers, 23 of them by the Pistons, Siva committed just one in 27 minutes as the primary ballhandler. Backup point guard Korie Lucious committed two in 13 minutes while giving the Pistons a nice lift with seven points, including a big 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer that enabled the Pistons to win the quarter. (Summer League standings will be determined by a points system with seven available in each game, one for each quarter and three for winning the game. The Pistons won six of seven points Sunday.)

“My job as a point guard is to try to calm down the team and keep the pace up but get smart play and I think we did a good job toward the end of the game of protecting the ball, not turning it over and getting good, quality shots,” said Siva, who finished with six assists and four steals to go with six points. “That’s my job to get everybody open shots and move the ball and I think I did a good job of that today and as a team we did a good job of that down the stretch.”

“I thought he did a real good job,” Trakh said. “I watched a few of his college games. He really understands the game, he understands spacing, he understands when to make the pass and when to attack the basket. I thought him and Korie were both keys to our win. I thought both of them played A games.”

Drummond ultimately had the biggest impact on the game with 16 rebounds, six blocked shots and five steals to go with 12 points in 25 minutes. There were rough edges, too – seven turnovers and 5 of 14 shooting as he attempted to expand his horizons with the ball – but Trakh said it’s critical for Drummond to get post touches.

“The more he gets used to guys coming down, reaching, he’s going to be a better player,” he said. “The more touches he gets, the more experience he gets with the ball in his hands … I’m still going to put the ball in to him.”

Another second-year Piston, Khris Middleton, led them with 16 points, picking up where he left off late in the regular season and drew praise from Trakh for playing at a high tempo and moving well without the ball.

The Pistons play again on Monday in a 3 p.m. game with Boston on NBA TV.