Two seasons after the departure of Rip Hamilton, the Detroit Pistons have found their shooting guard of the future in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
The former Georgia Bulldog was one of the best shooters in the draft, averaging 18.5 points on 37 percent from the arc as a sophomore. He will be able to contribute immediately on a team that ranked 22nd in points per game last season.
With the acquisition of forward Josh Smith in free agency, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the Pistons will be looking to make a push for the playoffs this season. Caldwell-Pope's ability to contribute will play a big role in their success meeting that goal.
Like every rookie, he is far from a finished product. But because of their offseason moves, he has the opportunity to be one of the few first-year players starting for a playoff-caliber team. If he can prove that he's ready for the NBA game immediately, he'll be on the short list of candidates for Rookie of the Year.
Improve Shot Selection
All rookies go through the struggles of adjusting to the size and speed of NBA defenders, but Caldwell-Pope will also have to learn to take a backseat offensively to the Pistons' veterans.
At Georgia, he was the only real scoring option; his 18.5 points per game were 10 more than anyone else on the team. With an offensively challenged roster around him, there were times when he had poor shot selection or clock awareness.
Now he'll be playing with Smith and Greg Monroe, players who each averaged at least 16 points and 12 shot attempts per game last season.
As a rookie, he'll need to play a complementary role to the big men. Learning to properly space the court and effectively use screens will be critical to the Pistons' offensive success.
Learn to Score off the Dribble
He won't be asked to act as their secondary ball-handler, but he still needs to improve his decision-making when he puts the ball on the floor.
He averaged two turnovers and just 1.8 assists per game as a sophomore. While some of that undoubtedly was a result of the lack of talent around him, an assist-to-turnover ratio less than 1-1 is a red flag, even for a score-first guard.
In the NBA Finals, Danny Green showed the issue with being a shooter lacking the ability to create off the dribble. Despite having a record-setting shooting performance, he was completely ineffective when his shot stopped falling, going just 2-of-19 from the field for eight points in Games 6 and 7.
Caldwell-Pope does not need to become an elite ball-handler to be effective offensively; he will be used primarily as a catch-and-shoot player. But developing the ability to pump fake, take two dribbles then hit a pull-up jumper, like Hamilton or Ray Allen, will do wonders for his game.
Caldwell-Pope will also need to improve physically to maximize his potential with the Pistons.
At 6'5" with a 6'8" wingspan, he has the frame of a prototypical shooting guard. And his three-quarter and lane-agility times (third and fourth among the 52 players tested, respectively) at the NBA predraft combine showed that he has the quickness to match up with all but the quickest guards.
He just needs to add some strength.
Weighing in at just under 205 pounds, he's already ahead of the curve for a rookie guard; Ben McLemore was less than 190 pounds at the combine.
But for a Pistons team that now has its sights set on making the playoffs, he'll be faced with very tough matchups against the Eastern Conference's top teams.
Each of the other top three teams boasts a bigger starting shooting guard as well. Jimmy Butler, J.R. Smith and Lance Stephenson are all listed at 220 pounds or heavier.
Caldwell-Pope should not be expected to be a lockdown defender from day one in Detroit, but he needs to avoid being a defensive liability. Adding a few pounds of muscle this summer will really help him fight in the post against the East's top guards.
Continue to Rebound
Not only was he Georgia's leading scorer, but Caldwell-Pope also led the team in rebounding as well, with 7.1 per game. Even more impressively, he ranked second in the SEC in defensive rebounds with 189, per Basketball-Reference.com.
Playing in Detroit with Monroe, Smith and Andre Drummond, three excellent rebounders, his numbers will inevitably drop, but it is important that he continues to attack the glass.
The Pistons have assembled a very athletic roster that should be looking to push the ball at ever opportunity. Caldwell-Pope's ability to grab rebounds will only help them get out in the open court.
The San Antonio Spurs had a good deal of success against the Miami Heat in the finals when they were able to score easy baskets in transition. Kawhi Leonard played a huge part in that, pushing the ball himself when he grabbed a board.
While Caldwell-Pope is two inches shorter than Leonard, he has similar rebounding instincts. He must utilize that ability not only to keep his man off the glass, but also to help the Pistons improve their offensive efficiency.
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