Learning Curve

Billups, Cheeks counsel Pistons rookie KCP on the value of shot selection

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has impressed the Pistons since day one with how hard he plays and his ability to affect games without scoring.
Fernando Medina (NBAE/Getty)

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has taken his job title – shooting guard – to heart, leading the Pistons in shot attempts until Greg Monroe nudged ahead of him by one in Sunday’s game at Orlando, the sixth of the preseason. The Pistons love everything they’ve learned about their 2013 lottery pick since choosing him eighth last June – his defense, his motor, his character and his commitment – and they’re unshaken in their belief that his shot will eventually fall.

But first they know he needs to take a deep breath, slow down a little and exercise a tad more discretion regarding the quality of shot he’s taking.

“He’s just trying to find his way because he really is a good shooter,” said Chauncey Billups, who’s counseled Caldwell-Pope and spent time watching videotape with him, reviewing his shot selection. “As I’m trying to tell him, good shooters take good shots.”

Maurice Cheeks, whose great gift as a point guard was setting up shooters in their sweet spots, also has talked to Caldwell-Pope about the importance of choosing shots wisely.

“You’ve got to figure out shot selection – what’s a good shot for him, what’s a bad shot,” Cheeks said. “Like I mentioned to him, the NBA game is such a 3-point game and guys think that’s just what people do. At the 3-point line, they want to shoot a three. I mentioned to him, if you’re wide open at the three and you haven’t made a three, take a two. Step in, take a dribble, try to get an easier shot. That’s just basketball for me. If I’m not making the three, I’ve got to get a closer shot.”

Just as in Summer League, when Caldwell-Pope opened cold and closed hot, he’s already making strides. He was 1 of 16 from the 3-point arc in the first three games, 5 of 8 in the past three. In his first start, Sunday at Orlando, he took just nine shots in 35 minutes and only three 3-pointers.

Billups sees a player eager to please and to make a big splash.

“Sometimes he’s rushing things, trying to get on that scoreboard so fast, just rookie stuff,” he said. “As I told him, you’ve proven that you won’t lose your confidence, but you’ve also proven that you’re young, too. Sometimes you’ve got to catch it, put it on the deck, get to the free-throw line, do other things. He’s going to be fine. Him and Peyton (Siva), I’m watching film with those guys and just trying to help them out.”

A master at knowing how to set up defenders by changing the pace of his play, Billups sees Caldwell-Pope playing full-speed ahead and nothing else.

“He’s definitely one speed right now,” he said. “When he starts to evolve, you’ll see his game change a little bit, but that’s all he knows. That’s one of the reasons that got him here is him playing so hard and being athletic out there and being able to defend. That’s what he knows right now. It’ll change.”

The Pistons don’t want to rob Caldwell-Pope of his confidence or rein in his aggressiveness, of course, but Cheeks isn’t worried about having to handle him with kid gloves, either.

“I don’t think you’re trampling his confidence by telling him to get a closer shot,” he said. “If you can get a layup, get a layup. It’s still two points. Step inside the arc. It’s still two points. It’s not stepping on his confidence in saying that he has to understand about good shots and bad shots.”

The silver lining for the Pistons is they’ve learned something about the 6-foot-6 Georgia rookie through his shooting woes.

“The other parts of his game have not wavered at all,” he said. “That’s the best part about him. The other parts of his game have been right on cue. We’ve just got to get him to understand about shot selection.”

Billups was asked if Caldwell-Pope defensively reminds him of a young Tayshaun Prince.

“It’s different,” he said. “Tay was always, and still is, a very good, solid defender. He’s just going to stay in front of you, contest the shots. He’s not going to put a lot of pressure on you or make you turn your back. This kid is different. He’s got great feet, he’s got great hands, he’s going to pressure you. He’s not going to just wait until you make a move. He’s going to pressure you and force your hand. He’s more of a Tony Allen, Bruce Bowen type of energetic defender.”