The Detroit Pistons’ core is set for years to come. With an extension for Andre Drummond this summer, a trade for Tobias Harris at the mid-season deadline, and a slew of moves along the periphery of the roster, Stan Van Gundy has solidified the roster and exhausted Detroit’s cap flexibility.
Although the Pistons are up against their limits in terms of salary and roster spots, their capacity for growth remains considerable.
Last season, the Pistons made a significant step towards realizing Van Gundy’s vision by making the playoffs as the Eastern Conference’s youngest entrant—their starter’s average age was just 23.6 years old. The starting lineup has very defined roles, but the team still had glaring weaknesses. Reggie Jackson provides a dynamic ball handler who can get to the paint at will. Andre Drummond brings elite offensive rebounding and a huge, athletic body to the middle of the defense. Marcus Morris and Tobias Harris bring respectable outside shooting from the forward spots, as well as defensive versatility in the pick and roll. But the Pistons are in desperate need of a true “Three-and-D” wing, someone who can lock down an opposing ball handler while also knocking down 3s at a high rate to provide the offense some much needed spacing.
Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris, and Reggie Jackson all had average shooting numbers, but the Pistons’ highest volume shooter, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, was one of their worst, hitting just 30.9 percent from behind the arc. If the Pistons are going to realize their potential, they’ll need Caldwell-Pope to realize his considerable potential.
In year three, Caldwell-Pope proved himself as a very good wing defender night in and night out. Because Reggie Jackson’s defense is lacking, KCP was tasked with defending the primary opposing ball handler every night. And, especially early in the season, he thrived in that role.
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Later in the year, KCP put on an equally impressive defensive performance against Russell Westbrook, proving his early season performance was no fluke. But, while Caldwell-Pope’s defense has been impressive for a young guard, his offense leaves a lot to be desired.
Caldwell-Pope will never be a dynamic primary ball handler. It’s just not his skill set. But, he can be incredibly valuable to the Pistons if he just fine tunes his offensive game and becomes a consistent outside shooter.
In his final year at Georgia, Kentavious Caldewell-Pope shot 37 percent on 225 three-point field goal attempts, which to expectations that he could be a good “Three-and-D” NBA wing. Through his first three years, however, Caldwell-Pope’s outside shooting has been woefully inconsistent.
After improving his 3-point field goal percentage from 31.9 percent his rookie year to 34.5 percent in his second year, it looked like he was making strides and becoming more comfortable as an outside shooter. But in his third year, Caldwell-Pope regressed: shooting just 30.9 percent on 369 three-point attempts. KCP’s poor shooting on such a high volume hindered the Pistons’ offense at times, leading to inconsistent performances.
Caldwell-Pope is a willing shooter, which is a valuable trait. But to improve his consistency, he’s going to need to refine his mechanics and decision making. When his mechanics are correct, he tends to be very good. The problem is he’s often off-balance—sometimes shooting flatfooted, relying too much on his upper body to generate range.
One of the simple ways to correct that is to use the “hop,” best explained by Coach Nick:
For Caldwell-Pope, the “hop” can be an important tool to get him balanced and in-rhythm.
Against the Bucks last year, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope finds open space behind the 3-point line in transition and is ready to shoot. As Tobias Harris finds him with the pass, KCP begins the hop before the ball is even in his hands. He catches the ball as he lands, perfectly balanced, and drains the in-rhythm 3-pointer. The type of rhythm and balance created by the “hop” is important to all 3-point shooters, but it’s especially critical to a guy like KCP who often struggles with his balance.
In another game against the Bucks, Caldwell-Pope showed another great shooting technique: the slide step. Camping out in the corner, it would be easy for KCP to shoot flatfooted here. Instead, he slides to his left as Reggie Jackson begins to pass him the ball. When KCP catches the ball, he’s pretty much completed the slide step and is perfectly balanced. The pre-shot motion leads to another in-rhythm 3-point attempt which goes in, in no small part because he’s not flatfooted prior to the shot.
Both plays against the Bucks are simple, well-executed pre-shot moves that got Caldwell-Pope into rhythm, leading to higher percentage shots. It’s clear he knows the technique, but he’s inconsistent in actually implementing them, and it leads to inconsistent results. And that is where his suboptimal decision making comes into play.
In a 1-for-5 3-point shooting performance against the Warriors last year, Caldwell-Pope showed multiple times how his poor decision making limits his shooting numbers.
In a first quarter possession, Caldwell-Pope gets Draymond Green switched onto him in a short pick-and-roll. There’s plenty of time on the shot clock (16 seconds), but Caldwell-Pope decides to shoot an off-balance, long 3-pointer instead of looking for better options. Shooting off the dribble, KCP is unable to use the hop or side step to get as balanced or in-rhythm as he can get in a catch-and-shoot situation and misses the shot badly as a result.
Rather than shoot on that possession, he should be looking for other options.
After the Warriors switch the pick-and-roll, Ersan Ilyasova cuts towards the basket with Steph Curry trailing him. KCP has an easy pass over the top, which would have led to a 3-on-2 advantage for the Pistons with the best offensive rebounder in the world covering up any mistakes. If he didn’t feel comfortable making that pass, he could have taken the slower Draymond Green off the dribble and created an even better opportunity for himself or one of his teammates. Instead, he settles for an early shot clock, low-percentage shot—something you’ll see a lot if you watch enough of his film from last year.
Later in the same game, Caldwell-Pope takes another ill-advised early shot clock 3-pointer. Again, he’s coming off an Ersan Ilyasova screen without the opportunity to employ the hop or slide step, and takes a low-percentage, off-balanced shot. It’s possible KCP was attempting to get a 2-for-1, but he shot the ball with less than 26 seconds on the game clock. So, even if he was making a conscious effort to get the 2-for-1, his lack of clock awareness makes this a really bad shot.
This type of off-balance, low-percentage shot was an all too common occurrence for Caldwell-Pope in 2015-16. Only 84.2 percent of KCP’s three-point field goals last year were assisted, a well below-average number for someone with limited creation abilities. By comparison, 92 percent of Klay Thompson’s 3-point field goals were assisted, and Thompson is a far better creator than Caldwell-Pope.
By simply improving his shot selection and not forcing unassisted 3-point attempts, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can greatly improve shooting. Should he focus on becoming more of a catch-and-shoot wing and utilizing the pre-shot techniques he already knows, he can become the “Three-and-D” wing the Pistons desperately need in order to become a more dynamic offense.