Coming into the season, everyone knew that they 2016-2017 year would be a big one for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The Pistons were looking to take the next step after returning to the playoffs and Caldwell-Pope was looking for a new contract as he was going to be a restricted free agent after the season. Now, here we are a year later and I know I was more than a little disappointed with this past year. Both the team and KCP had many ups and downs which resulted in the team watching the playoffs as opposed to playing in them. Let’s review the good, the bad and the ugly of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope from this past year.
Caldwell-Pope took some steps forward in his offensive game, which was his biggest question mark coming into the season. Notably his three point shooting was the best it’s ever been. KCP set a new career high in shooting percentage from deep with 35 percent. This is especially impressive considering he also set a career high in three point attempts per game. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that him taking more three pointers and making them at a high percentage is a very good thing.
Along with his three point shooting, KCP also set a career high in assists per game. While some might not be impressed with the jump from his previous career high (1.8) to this year’s 2.5 assists per game, I think this was a big step forward in his career. It’s no secret that the Pistons point guards struggled this year with no one guy stepping up and taking the job. This put a little more of a burden on Caldwell-Pope to help move the ball around. Coming into this year, I wasn’t sure he was capable of the playmaking he showed. However, KCP stepped up and moved the ball better than he ever has before. This growth should not go overlooked.
Finally, we have to talk about Caldwell-Pope’s defense. This has been his calling card since coming into the league in 2013 and this year was no different. He was right on par with his career averages in blocks per game (0.2) and steals per game (1.2). One area he did improve in was not fouling as much. He set a career low in fouls per game with just 1.6 per game. His consistency and high energy on the defensive side of the ball made him the team’s best defender this year.
One area KCP has always struggled in has been his overall shooting percentage and this year was no different. For the third time in his four-year career he shot 40 percent or worse from the field. There are many reasons for this. One is a very inconsistent jump shot. Another is poor shot selection at times. A third is that almost none of his offense comes from slashing to the basket to get easy layups. In short, KCP isn’t a reliable offensive option.
KCP is not a pure jump shooter. How many times have we seen the Pistons on the fast break and watch him miss a wide open three point shot? Answer: Too many times. Despite his improvement in this area, KCP is not likely to space the floor with his shooting. He’s also not a guy who can penetrate and get to the rim. For the most part, his layups only come when he is running the floor in transition. It’s hard to thrive as a scorer in this league when you can’t make open threes and you can’t get to the rim. And while KCP can create his shot versus a tough defender, a lot of times this results in him forcing shots up that aren’t really there.
There are two things about KCP that make me very uncomfortable coming out of this year. The first is a DUI that happened towards the end of the season. The second is the price tag that come with him as a restricted free agent.
KCP has never been someone I’ve worried about off the court. He doesn’t have a history of issues in his personal life and his effort is always 100 percent on the court. That’s why I was shocked to hear that he’d been tagged for a DUI near the end of the season. This is concerning not just because it’s a very serious thing, but from a sports perspective as well. It makes me question where his head was at when the team was desperately looking for answers and leadership. This was KCP’s fourth year in the NBA. He should have been stepping up and attempting to will his team to victory, but instead he was out getting sauced. It may turn out to be an isolated incident when it’s all said and done, but as of now I question him as a leader and his mental toughness.
Now the Pistons are faced with the choice of what to do with Caldwell-Pope. There are pros and cons to consider, most of which I have touched on already. But the biggest con actually has nothing to do with KCP at all. That would be his price tag this offseason. There has been a lot of speculation this year that will take a max contract to keep him in Detroit. What’s not speculation is that the Pistons plan to match any offer made to him, as stated by the front office. I’m not a GM, but it doesn’t seem wise to me to give a max deal to a guy who may not be an offensive liability, but a guy who is inconsistent at best as a scorer.
Overall, this was a year full of ups and downs for KCP. He shows strength in some areas, improvement in others and there are major parts of his game that are still just as weak as the moment he came into the league. Now we look to the future. A looming big deal for a player that is still developing as a scorer. Is this the right move? I’m not sure. All I really know is that KCP is a hard worker who has shown growth over his career, but just isn’t there yet. I so many ways, this past season has been the complete embodiment of that, in both his strengths and his weaknesses.
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