KCP, Siva sparkle as Pistons win Summer League opener

ORLANDO – Second-year players who hope to make a mark in the NBA better do more than just blend in during Summer League. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Peyton Siva passed that test with plenty of cushion Saturday.

When last seen, Caldwell-Pope was putting up 30 points and flashing his breathtaking athleticism against Oklahoma City in a game with serious postseason implications for the Thunder. It was a wonderful way to launch his off-season – he said so himself for what it would do for his confidence – and it came into full evidence in a 95-89 Pistons win over Houston.

Cadlwell-Pope scored 26 points and recorded six of Detroit’s 17 steals, but even that barely scratches the surface of why he was clearly the best player on the floor – exactly the thing the Pistons were hoping to see out of him.

He looked supremely confident with the ball in his hands, playing aggressively without veering out of control, and he was a different player in mannerism, too. Rarely heard as a rookie, Caldwell-Pope’s voice boomed through the practice gym at Amway Arena – calling out defensive instructions, encouraging teammates to play hard and giving the officials an earful twice when he felt he should have been awarded free throws.

“We had a little conversation about his emotions almost went a little too far late in that game,” Summer League coach Bob Beyer said. “But you want to see that in a player. A lot of players don’t naturally have that; he does. His competitiveness, his will to win, is very strong. A lot of guys you wish had that. He’s one of those guys that does.”

“I’ve been waiting for this moment,” Caldwell-Pope said. “After my last game of the season, just took that for motivation and started working hard in the summer. I’m just trying to get more comfortable with the ball in my hand and helping my teammates out being vocal on the court.”

Caldwell-Pope scored in many different ways. He knocked down 2 of 5 from the 3-point line, drained a few mid-range jump shots off the dribble, hit 8 of 9 free throws – many earned with strong drives – and made a few jaw-dropping moves to the rim, including a twisting layup off a baseline drive and pivot and a swooping left-handed finish down the middle.

Just as important was his defense, which went far beyond the six steals. There were numerous deflections and hustle plays, including a chase-down block.

“It’s his length, his aggressiveness,” Beyer said. “He has a defensive mindset and you can see that out there.”

Siva, in character, was more understated but just as critical to the win. In a typically chaotic Summer League performance where players are desperate to catch the eye of NBA and international scouts, Siva committed only two turnovers in 28 minutes – and he was kicking himself for those.

“I should have had none,” he said. “I had zero leading up to the fourth quarter and there were a couple of sloppy plays where I just lost it. I should’ve done a better job, but hopefully next game I’ll focus more and run the team. That’s what coach Van Gundy wanted me to do and coach Beyer – they want me to take care of the ball and run the team and that’s what I tried to do.”

Siva’s greatest quality isn’t anything tangible. It’s not his shot or his ballhandling or his defense. It’s his uncanny ability to wind up on the winning side more often than not. And with the game in the balance – tied at 86 – Siva scored the game’s next six points on two free throws, a highlight-reel driving layup and two more free throws. He finished with 16 points and six assists.

“I just think he’s a good basketball player,” Beyer said. “He’s a point guard and he is thinking, ‘Set my teammates up first.’ He wants to run the team, but he has the ability – as we saw tonight, playing in high pick-and-roll situations, make good decisions, get to the rim and really that helps him out and it helps our team out.”

Caldwell-Pope and Siva have different stakes at Summer League. Caldwell-Pope will use the week to solidify his status in Van Gundy’s playing rotation, perhaps fight it out to start at shooting guard. For Siva, it’s about convincing the Pistons to pick up the second-year guarantee on his contract – a decision that will be rendered soon after Summer League’s conclusion.

“I would love to be a part of it,” he said. “I think they’re doing something special here with coach Van Gundy and the players they’re bringing in and I’m definitely going to work hard and just play my game.”

Both 2013 draft picks did exactly that on Saturday. And if they maintain that level of play for the remaining four Summer League games, they just might get the chance to play their games when it really counts come the fall.