You can tell the preseason is over by the relative brevity of Stan Van Gundy’s answers. He’s in regular-season mode. So when the subject of how Kentavious Caldwell-Pope looked in Tuesday’s final practice before Wednesday’s opener at Denver was raised, we didn’t get much.
“He looked OK,” Van Gundy shrugged. “He hasn’t played a lot, but he looked OK.”
His teammates were slightly more expansive.
“He hasn’t missed a step,” Andre Drummond said. “Still jumping around, flying around. He dunked on Spencer today. That was good to see. He’s back to his old ways.”
Dinwiddie quibbled with the identity of Caldwell-Pope’s victim, but not with the general tenor of Drummond’s assessment of his readiness.
“I think Pope looked great,” he said. “He shot well. He had a really nice drive baseline and a dunk on another player. He looked good. It was definitely not me, so we can put that to bed. It was a wing player, but it wasn’t me. We can go get the film right now.”
Van Gundy committed to Cadlwell-Pope as his starter at shooting guard to go with Kyle Singler and Brandon Jennings on the perimeter, Josh Smith and Drummond up front while Greg Monroe serves his two-game suspension.
He’s not sure what he might do on Saturday for the home opener against Brooklyn when Monroe comes back because, well ...
“Saturday night? Holy cow – I’m worried about tonight.”
Van Gundy hasn’t dismissed the possibility of eventually starting the big three up front, which might have been a strong consideration for the opener given that Denver’s frontcourt is 7-footer Timofey Mozgov, Kenneth Faried and 6-foot-10 Danilo Gallinari at small forward.
Caldwell-Pope will be matched up with Arron Afflalo, who proved a tough cover for him last season when he was in Orlando and used his strength to post up the rookie. Denver almost surely will go to that at some point Wednesday, but Afflalo – drafted by the Pistons in the 2007 first round – is going to see a different player than he remembers.
Caldwell-Pope scored 30 points in his rookie finale and used the confidence he took out of that game as a springboard to a phenomenal Orlando Summer League, where he averaged 24 points. It carried over into training camp and his first two-plus preseason games where he averaged 16.7 points and shot .467 from the 3-point line before suffering the injury on Oct. 12 at Washington.
“It feels better,” he said of the left knee, diagnosed as a strain after initial fears it could sideline him for weeks or more. “I’m moving great, so I feel like I’m back to 100 percent. We had two good practices so I think I’m getting there. It’s going to take a while, but I think that first game will probably get me to where I need to be and just carry on throughout the season.”
And as for his dunking victim.
“I don’t know who it was,” he smiled. “I was just looking at the rim.”