Check, Check

Drummond, KCP show Pistons what they needed to see in Orlando

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope notched 20 points and five rebounds in Friday's summer league loss to the Heat.
Fernando Medina (NBAE/Getty)
Atop the Pistons’ Summer League checklist were assessing Andre Drummond’s readiness for taking the next step and gauging whether Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would show the first signs of being ready to handle a spot in the backcourt rotation.

It’s fair to say Joe Dumars, Maurice Cheeks and their staffs will leave Orlando after five practices, five games and a few morning shootarounds feeling as good about those questions as they possibly could, with the caveat that Summer League is merely a snap shot in time.

Caldwell-Pope got progressively better as the week unfolded, though he consistently played hard even while his shots went awry in the first few games. But he saved his best for last, scoring a game-high 20 points to go with five rebounds, four assists and a steal in Friday’s 90-85 loss to Miami.

A few late misses, including a potential tying 3-pointer in the final seconds, dropped Caldwell-Pope’s final shooting line to 7 of 14, but he played an extremely efficient game offensively, with several other good passes that didn’t yield assists. He scored in a variety of ways: jump shots, an artfully banked runner, put-backs and frequent trips to the basket that resulted in six free throws. Over his last two games, Caldwell-Pope was awarded 16 foul shots.

He talked about the need to work on his ballhandling earlier in the week, and while that will make him that much more of an offensive threat, his handle as it is allowed him many forays to the basket as the week unfolded and he was as apt to go left as right.

With 3½ months to go before the regular season starts, there is still much that could change with the roster. As it stands now, with Thursday’s release of second-year shooting guard Kim English, Caldwell-Pope’s position is headed by Rodney Stuckey. Chauncey Billups, who according to multiple media reports agreed to rejoin the Pistons, also will be an option at that position with Brandon Knight and Will Bynum at point guard. But Caldwell-Pope gives the Pistons the size, athleticism and shooting range that could force its way into the mix if he can prove himself a reliably consistent rookie.

Drummond, meanwhile, dominated the way the Pistons hoped he would. He averaged 15.5 points, 14.8 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2.5 steals. The Pistons gave him the fourth quarter off, save for the final 30 seconds, and his absence made possible Miami’s comeback from eight points down. In 24 minutes Friday, he had 15 points on 6 of 7 shooting to go with 14 boards and two steals.

He committed too many turnovers, five a game, as a result of the Pistons’ desire to force him to expand his boundaries. The plan was to give him plenty of post touches, something that rarely happened in his rookie season and probably won’t be a significant piece of the playbook in his second season, and it put him in unfamiliar situations that led to most of the miscues.

He’ll spend the rest of the summer – when he isn’t joining Greg Monroe later this month at the Team USA minicamp in Las Vegas – working with assistant coach Rasheed Wallace honing fundamentals of a rudimentary back-to-the-basket game. The tools are there – strength to hold his position, tremendous quickness, nimble feet and big hands. It can take years to develop an efficient low-post game, especially in the face of double teams that come from unexpected places, but Drummond’s shrunk learning curves in other areas and might in this one, as well.

The Pistons were down to seven players for Friday’s finale with the release of English, JaJuan Johnson’s departure to join a Las Vegas Summer League roster and injuries to Peyton Siva (ankle), Khris Middleton (ankle) and Slava Kravtsov (groin).

Tony Mitchell finished strong with 16 points and six rebounds, consistently exhibiting his above-the-rim ability that made him an easy gamble at the 37th pick. The free-agent pickup of Josh Smith makes the Pistons deeper and much more athletic in the frontcourt, so there’ll be no pressure on Mitchell to see the floor early. The Pistons can afford to be patient with him and, as with Drummond and Monroe, working with Wallace this summer on the court – not to mention with Arnie Kander in the weight room – could see him take a big leap between now and October.

The Pistons finished 2-3 in Summer League. We’ll have plenty of wrapup coverage over the next few weeks. But the bottom line: They accomplished what they’d hoped to during their 10 days in Orlando.