Week 1: Looking Back

KCP, Drummond among eye-catchers for Pistons in early going

They’re a long way from an open book just yet, but Saturday’s open practice at least revealed a few things to the estimated 5,000 fans who showed up at The Palace to see the public unveiling of Maurice Cheeks’ first Pistons team.

Here are three quick impressions of the Pistons based on Saturday’s scrimmage and glimpses of practices over the past week:

  • KCP ahead of schedule – Just as a year ago, when Andre Drummond showed the Pistons flashes of greatness in the Orlando Summer League but gave no assurances coming out of July that he’d be ready for anything approaching a significant role during the regular season, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is on a similar trajectory.

    The Pistons left Orlando three months ago convinced they’d made the right call on taking Caldwell-Pope with the eighth pick. They loved both his physical gifts and his willingness to stick his nose into the fray. But they were no more certain he’d crack the rotation than they were a year ago with Drummond.

    But five days into training camp, KCP is moving the needle. I asked Cheeks after Saturday’s practice if the Georgia rookie was ahead of where he expected him to be.

    “Yup, he is,” he said. “I always knew he would compete and he has competed at a very high level. He has never looked out of place. That’s huge for me and probably for him, as well. For a rookie to never look out of place when he’s playing with veterans is always a plus. He never changes his appearance, his work ethic is there, he makes shots. He’s just been good.”

    His teammates have noticed, too. Greg Monroe went through Summer League practices and sees a different player today.

    “I think he’s had a great camp,” Monroe said. “He’s been very good on defense, he’s hit big shots, he’s gotten to the rim, he runs the floor. He’s doing everything right right now. He’s definitely a lot further (ahead) than people may have thought.”

    “He has a veteran demeanor,” Will Bynum said. “Every day, you know what you’re going to get with him. Defensively, he’s out there giving 110 percent. He’s really good defensively. Offensively, he’s solid – makes shots, gets hot really quick. KCP knows the game.”

  • Andre Drummond is on another plane – And at his current rate, he might soon be on another planet. I don’t know that we’re going to see the Pistons running post offense for Drummond in his second season, but it’s not out of the question. And he’s showing the basis for a post game down the road that could become the hub of a team’s offense.

    Drummond isn’t going to need the most sophisticated set of moves ever seen to be a lethal post player. He’s so quick and so strong with such great hands that he’s going to make it really tough for defenders to stay between him and the rim without fouling him. And, yeah, his free-throw stroke is better. He won’t be challenging Chauncey Billups to take technical free throws, maybe, but he’s going to be better than the 37 percent foul shooter he was as a rookie.

    Even without running plays for him, Drummond will find opportunities to show his much greater comfort level with the ball in his hands and his back to the basket over the course of the season. In the meantime, his greater conditioning level is going to allow him to do what he does best – rebound, block and alter shots, dunk – with greater endurance and consistency.

    “I’m not all for the whole crazy jump thing where he’s getting it on the post and doing sky hooks now,” Bynum said. “Let’s let Andre continue to grow at his own pace. Andre’s going to be a great player in this league. He’s going to be here for a long time and he’s going to continue to grow.”

  • The athleticism level is dramatically higher – Fans at the open practice usually yawn through the drills portion, before they break into five-on-five scrimmaging. But this group made the simple three-man weave about as entertaining as that can possibly get. The population of darting runners and daring leapers on this roster has probably quintupled over two or three years ago.

    Drummond, Josh Smith, Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Jennings and Tony Mitchell – the latter four all newcomers – have injected the Pistons with athleticism and, in most cases, greater size at their positions than the Pistons have had in a long time. That gives them the material to fundamentally transform the way they play.

    Maurice Cheeks said when he took the job – before any of those newcomers were even Pistons – that he wanted to force turnovers and get out and run. Joe Dumars was looking for those elements even before hiring Cheeks – really, every GM looks for those elements – so you can chalk it up to coincidence more than a new coach’s influence. But, regardless, it’s going to make it a lot easier to implement Cheeks’ vision and give the Pistons a greater chance to get in sync early.

    We’ll see how it plays out. On Sunday, I’ll look at three other areas that should begin to come into focus next week, when the Pistons open their preseason schedule with home games against Maccabi Haifi (Tuesday) and defending NBA champion Miami (Thursday).