Kentavious Caldwell-Pope now the man for Pistons at shooting guard

Me at the Detroit Free Press:

With Jodie Meeks sidelined by injury, the Detroit Pistons will have to rely on a player who, in his last nine games, has:

• Scored 22.2 points per game.

• Made 41.4% of his three-point attempts.

• Collected 1.6 steals per game.

All three marks, with a 75-attempt minimum on shots beyond the arc, would have led the Pistons last season. So, all in all, Detroit doesn’t sound too bad off.

But for the Pistons’ now-unquestioned starting shooting guard — Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — there’s a catch.

Three of those nine games were in the preseason. Five more were in summer league. And the other was the final game last season, against the Oklahoma City Thunder, which had a real last-day-of-school, no-rules feel.

Can the second-year guard keep producing when it counts?

That already was a big question for the long-term potential of this roster. After Andre Drummond, no current Piston is more likely to be on the team in three years.

But with Meeks out eight weeks with a stress fracture in his lower back, the question will affect this season immensely. Between Meeks and Caldwell-Pope, the shooting guard position seemed to be accounted for. But now, it’s Caldwell-Pope and confusion at the position.

Coach Stan Van Gundy could use two point guards at times, but only Brandon Jennings and D.J. Augustin are really up to speed. Will Bynum missed valuable training in the new system because of injury, and rookie Spencer Dinwiddie has not yet been cleared for full contact.

Kyle Singler, Caron Butler, Cartier Martin and/or Luigi Datome could slide up from small forward, but each is a better fit in the frontcourt. Singler, in particular, has been singled out by Van Gundy as someone who was playing out of position at shooting guard in previous years.

 

So the more Caldwell-Pope can handle, the better off the Pistons will be.

He showed steady improvement throughout his rookie year, and he has looked great since the season ended. Hopefully, that’s real progress, but I’d caution against reading too much into the summer league and preseason. Otherwise, you’d think Austin Daye is a championship-caliber player. (Bad example.)

The biggest leap has come in Caldwell-Pope’s assertiveness. He’s an impressive athlete who can attack the rim and, when confident, he’s an able three-point shooter.

But just how much does that translate when the games count, and he’s playing more frequently with established NBA veterans? Will he defer to much, like he did as a rookie?

Meeks would have given Caldwell-Pope a chance to ease into a large role. But now, Caldwell-Pope has no choice.

He’s the Pistons’ shooting guard — today, tomorrow and, hopefully, for years to come.