Shooting Up

Singler, KCP help Pistons turn the corner from the 3-point arc

Kyle Singler
Kyle Singler and rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have bolstered the Pistons' three-point shooting.
Jesse D. Garrabant (NBAE/Getty)
PHILADELPHIA – The Pistons still rank last in the NBA in 3-point percentage, but you don’t have to dig very far beneath the surface to see evidence of progress. Since November turned into December, the Pistons essentially have been an average 3-point shooting team.

They were, at least, until the calendar flipped to 2014 and a new issue reared its head: third-quarter collapses. The Pistons have been outscored 94-48 in the three third quarters of the new year, the overriding reason why they’re still looking for their first 2014 win.

One contributing factor: The Pistons are shooting 21 percent from the 3-point arc in 2014. They hope it’s just a blip on the radar, and they can point to December as evidence. Because in 17 December games, the Pistons drained 35 percent of their 3-point attempts, just a shade below the NBA average of .357.

The turnaround can be largely credited to two young players: Kyle Singler and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

Singler’s season turned dramatically on the night of Dec. 3 in Miami when the Pistons knocked off the two-time defending NBA champions as he scored 18 points on 4 of 7 3-point shooting. Since that game, Singler – who had hit just 8 of 34 triples, 23.5 percent, prior to that – has made 22 of 48 for 46 percent. Caldwell-Pope was at 27 percent (13 for 48) before the Miami game, but 19 of 48 for 39 percent since.

Singler ironed out his problems the way he attacks everything: work.

“Whenever I’m in a slump, I just need to get out on the court and run, shoot, just get a better feel for how I’m getting my game shots. It’s not necessarily sitting down and watching tape. It might work for some guys, but for me it’s more game situations, shooting, to get myself back into a rhythm.”

It speaks volumes for the regard in which Mo Cheeks holds Singler than even in the depths of his shooting slump, his role remained constant. Cheeks recently told Caldwell-Pope to pattern his game after Singler on the offensive end, in particular to stay vigilant about moving without the basketball to create easy scoring chances.

“With Kenny, he’s super athletic,” Singler said. “He should be able to use his athleticism to get out on the court and get a couple of easy baskets. Our games are different, but for him to focus on moving without the ball will help his game. In the NBA, the tougher guys to guard are the ones who are constantly moving, separating from the defense. It will help his game if he learns to move and find open shots that way more than just standing in the corner and waiting for the ball to come to him.”

While Singler worked out his shooting mechanics through repetition, Caldwell-Pope’s improved numbers have as much to do with shot selection as anything else. Cheeks and Chauncey Billups have spent a lot of time in the rookie’s ear, offering advice and encouragement, with Cheeks constantly beating the drum of practice, practice, practice.

“We should always get better at shooting,” Cheeks said earlier this week, “because we have the tools and the facilities to get better. We have to work at it.”

He attributes Singler and Caldwell-Pope’s improvement to exactly that. “More repetitions shooting the ball, more consistency in their workouts. Kyle is very, very consistent. KCP is a rookie learning how to get where he needs to get to, to get comfortable shooting the ball. The last few games he’s been comfortable and getting his workouts in. He’s a rookie. It just doesn’t happen overnight.”

“It comes with time and just learning how the game is being played,” Singler said. “For a younger player it’s just learning how to play in this type of system. I’m sure half of those shots earlier on were just excitement shots. He’s the type of kid that wants to help the team and contribute. Over time, he’s going to get better and better.”

One area where Caldwell-Pope shows great potential is in his use of screens. His motor and quickness allow him to slither through tight openings and make it tough for his defender to stay on his hip.

“He’s getting better,” Cheeks said. “That’s an adjustment for a guy coming out of college, learning how to use a screen. He picks up a lot of things from guarding certain guys, the way they’re coming off screens, the energy they’re coming off screens. When he first came here, he didn’t know how to do it, but he’s getting better at it.”

Caldwell-Pope has shown a particular knack for curling sharply around elbow screens for foul-line jump shots. It’s not something the Pistons have used extensively because, well, Cheeks has yet to confer honored status on the rookie by calling plays for him.

“No,” Cheeks grinned. “No disrespect to him. It’s just, he’s a rookie. He’s still finding his way, just being able to find his position on the court and good shots and bad shots, the difference in them.”

In Singler and Caldwell-Pope, the Pistons have two young wing players with plus size for their position and plus motors. And, the evidence since the first few weeks of the season suggests, two players who’ll be part of the solution to the team’s 3-point shooting issues.