KCP Makes a Move

Caldwell-Pope’s poise, defense – and shooting stroke – make early impression

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Fernando Medina (NBAE/Getty Images Sport)
Maurice Cheeks could go several different ways with the one starting position likely up for grabs in Pistons training camp, but a lot of things fall easily into place if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope wins the shooting guard spot.

And he just might.

“Today, he had an excellent day,” Cheeks said after the Georgia rookie knocked down a few long jump shots and got after it defensively in his one-on-one battle with Rodney Stuckey in a highly competitive scrimmage.

If Caldwell-Pope can provide a consistent 3-point shooting threat – which rookies rarely manage – then much of the concern about how the Pistons can space the floor for their athletic starting frontcourt will dissipate. It would also allow Cheeks the luxury of bringing Stuckey off the bench to spearhead the second unit, which figures to already have its share of shooting options from players such as Gigi Datome, Chauncey Billups and Charlie Villanueva.

The rookie doesn’t appear to lack for confidence, at least.

“A great defender, a guy who really has a lot of confidence in his outside shot,” said Brandon Jennings, paired with the rookie for Thursday’s scrimmage. “He’s not showing one bit of nervousness when he’s out there playing. It’s like he’s been here before.”

It appears that Caldwell-Pope left all of his rookie anxiety in Orlando, where he started Summer League 1 of 14 from the 3-point line before closing with a rush. The adjustment from Georgia to Summer League was greater for him than Summer League to training camp, he said.

“In Summer League, I had to adjust because I was coming straight from college,” he said. “But now that I had Summer League and I’m here in training camp, it pretty much has gotten easy to me. We went through the same thing in Summer League, so I just carried it over to training camp.”

Of course, when he was in Orlando, he didn’t have a frontcourt of Greg Monroe, Josh Smith and Andre Drummond, which should provide him with the space he needs to find open jump shots.

“When I’m on the floor when them, it’s easy to find open spots,” he said. “They draw a lot of attention, so there’s going to be a lot of open spots. You’ve got got to find that open spot and get to it.”

Even when he struggled early in Orlando with his shooting, Cheeks told Joe Dumars he loved the kid’s makeup and ability to contribute in a variety of other ways. He’s seen the same from him through three days of camp.

“He has a poise about him,” he said. “He doesn’t get stressed out. He doesn’t get nervous. He doesn’t get wide-eyed. He just stays within himself, shoots the ball when he has an open shot. The one constant about him, he plays defense and he plays hard and he runs the floor. He does a lot of things well.”

Knowing his strengths and playing to them is a skill of Caldwell-Pope’s, as surely as his 3-point stroke plays to his advantage.

“That’s a credit to him or whoever coached him over the years,” Cheeks said. “There’s been guys who’ve been in the league for a while and kind of get confused on what they do well. This guy is a rookie and does what he can do. But the more impressive thing is that he plays defense, he tries to guard and he never, ever says a word. Rookies should be seen and not heard and he does that extremely well. He does what he can do and makes his impressions felt by doing his strengths.”

Cheeks said Stuckey also had an excellent day of practice. He said on Wednesday that he would look at multiple players as candidates for the starting spot over the course of the preseason, which could also include Kyle Singler and Chauncey Billups, though the Pistons are going to be leery about overusing the 37-year-old veteran. Cheeks spent a fair amount of time Thursday extolling Singler in a similar vein as he did Caldwell-Pope – a player who understands his strengths and the ways he can help the team.

“He has shown what I’ve known about him,” Cheeks said. “He’s a constant mover, he’s a constant worker and he’s another guy that doesn’t say a word. He just kind of does his job and you can never, ever have enough guys like him. Like today, him and Jonas (Jerebko) competed at a very high level.

“The one thing a coach loves to have is to know what they’re going to get from a guy and Kyle Singler, I know what I’m going to get. I’m going to get all-out effort, run the floor and I don’t have to run a play for him.”

Even with a couple of guys in the mix who don’t say much, the Pistons might yet make some noise at shooting guard this season in a lineup that doesn’t otherwise lack for talent.