Pistons' Caldwell-Pope shoots ahead
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope came to the Orlando Pro Summer League wanting nothing more than to pick up where he left off at the end of the NBA regular season.
Talk about lofty goals.
Considering how the last game of Caldwell-Pope's rookie season in Detroit evolved into a career-high 30-point night in a shootout against league MVP Kevin Durant on the road, it's understandable how such a wave of confidence and momentum can carry a budding prospect through the offseason.
He's no longer drawing from the adrenaline rush that comes with facing Durant, Russell Westbrook and Oklahoma City's high-caliber defense. But Caldwell-Pope has entered the summer league fueled by the same confidence he had on the final night of the regular season more than two months ago.
Through his first two games of action in the 10-team Orlando field, Caldwell-Pope is averaging a league-high 28 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.0 steals while shooting 46 percent overall from 3-point range. It essentially took 81 games for Caldwell-Pope to have the kind of breakout game that reflected the potential the Pistons saw when he was selected with the No. 8 pick of last year's draft.
But he has been a much quicker study on his second trip through Orlando. While summer-league stats and performances are often inflated and overstated, considering the level of competition, Orlando is the ideal environment for the sharp-shooting wingman to develop the versatility and stability he'll need to find a role on a Pistons team that will be revamped under new coach and president Stan Van Gundy.
There's also a key element helping to spark Caldwell-Pope's urgency: looming competition for a job.
Van Gundy's first move in free agency last week was to land a commitment from former Los Angeles Lakers guard Jodie Meeks on a $20 million deal, which places direct pressure on Caldwell-Pope to develop quickly or get left behind. Van Gundy hopes to import a similar style from his days coaching the Magic, where he spread the floor with shooters around dominant center Dwight Howard.
Promising big man Andre Drummond is the Dwight-like anchor in Detroit, with Meeks and Caldwell-Pope in position to play the same sort of roles that J.J. Redick and Courtney Lee once held with the Magic.
Van Gundy is back in Orlando this week to watch the Pistons' summer league team develop. He has been impressed with Caldwell-Pope's scoring, but has emphasized his need to improve his overall floor game. After scoring 26 points on the league's opening day Saturday, Caldwell-Pope responded with 30 points, 12 rebounds and two steals in nearly 32 minutes during an 85-82 win against Memphis.
"I feel I can just relax and play, not just think too much," Caldwell-Pope said of the progress he has made from last year's summer league play. "I feed off my defense. It gets me going. If my defense is going well, then my offense is going to come. [Van Gundy] just told me to stay aggressive and just play my game. I've been doing that, and it's just been coming."
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Several other summer league sophomores are using the week in Orlando to take a similar leap in their games in hopes of shoring up roles entering next season. Heat forward James Ennis, who is averaging 23.5 points and shooting 65.2 percent from the field, aims to use his second trip through the week-long summer league to help secure a role on Miami's roster. The Heat stashed Ennis, a second-round pick last year, in Australia for a season of development.
Ennis admits that going back through the summer league for a second season is difficult, especially for first-round draft picks, because there are expectations for higher-profile prospects to dominate.
Oklahoma City center Steven Adams is also back again after having a prominent role in the Thunder's rotation as a reserve last season. Boston has two players -- center Kelly Olynyk and guard Phil Pressey -- who are playing summer league for the second year in a row. Both were also rotation players with the Celtics last season.
"It's kind of difficult, but at the same time it's not, because I've been here last year and have experience and an upper hand," Ennis said of the confidence boost the second time through summer league.
Oklahoma City guard Reggie Jackson used his second stint in summer league last season to prepare for his role as Westbrook's backup entering training camp. Jackson set an Orlando league record with 35 points in one of the two games he played last summer.
Pistons assistant Bob Beyer believes Caldwell-Pope can follow the same blueprint in Detroit.
"I don't want to say no -- I hope yes," said Beyer, who coaches the Pistons' summer league team. "There are a lot of guys that go through this. Some guys use this experience to do exactly that. Some other guys struggle and come around eventually. I just think it's a great stage for KCP to really demonstrate all the things he can do as an NBA player."
Caldwell-Pope is just starting to settle into his game.
"It's just a great setting for me," he said of Orlando. "I've been playing well, so I just have to continue it throughout this week and carry it over into summer camp."