ORLANDO, Fla. – Nobody had to tell Kentavious Caldwell-Pope that it was time for him to step up his game this season.
The Pistons delivered that message when they brought in free agent shooting guard Jodie Meeks on a three-year, $19 million deal to play his position.
Two days into the Orlando Pro Summer League, Caldwell-Pope’s response has bounced loudly off the walls of the Amway Center. He followed up a 26-point, six-assist effort in his first game with 30 points and 12 rebounds Sunday as the Pistons beat the Grizzlies 85-82.
“Just creating my own shot, getting to the basket and finishing strong,” said Caldwell-Pope. “I been working on that a lot during the summer and it’s coming on.”
It didn’t hurt that he banged home back-to-back 3-pointers on the Pistons first two possessions of the game. But much more impressive has been the way the 6-foot-6 guard has played at both ends of the court with a competitive zeal and self-confidence that had drooped considerably during a rookie season where he yo-yoed in and out of the starting lineup. He shot just 39.6 percent from the field and 31.9 percent from behind the 3-point line.
Caldwell-Pope showed flashes of his potential, but only just enough to make everyone to want more from the player that Detroit made the eighth pick in the 2013 draft. He became quiet, even sullen and it showed.
Here in the first two games, he’s been vocal, always aggressive and constantly on attack.
“It’s just coming more natural,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We have a lot of different players on our team right now. We have to learn how to communicate, how to talk to each other.”
In addition to hitting 18 of 39 shots in the first two games, he’s been trying to affect play any way that he can.
New Pistons head coach and team president Stan Van Gundy has said the big scoring from Caldwell-Pope is secondary to being aggressive and sinking his teeth into games defensively. The team also wants him to improve his ball handling.
“Our expectations are for him to play well every night and he did again tonight,” said Pistons assistant Bob Beyer, who is running the summer league team. “Not only statistically. But he was matched up in the beginning of the game against (Jordan) Adams who had a great game yesterday shooting the ball. He took the challenge defensively as well. One thing I really like about KCP is just his overall spirit and competitiveness.”
A year ago, Reggie Jackson of the Thunder came to the summer league and dominated in every game he played, then used that as a springboard to having his best NBA season.
“I don’t want to say no. I hope yes,” said Beyer. “There’s a lot of guys that go through the summer league and some guys use this experience to do exactly that. Some other guys struggle through it and they come around eventually. I just think it’s a great, great stage for KCP to kind of demonstrate all the things that he can do as an NBA player.
“I think the one thing, and we’re gonna continue to put him in pick and rolls, we want his ball handling to get a little bit better. But the way he attacks the glass defensively, the way he’s aggressive in catch-and-shoots, that’s been very impressive and he’ll get those opportunities during the regular season as well.”
One opportunity Caldwell-Pope is looking forward to is giving his own response to the Pistons’ signing of Meeks.
“Something like that,” he said. “I am looking forward to it. I just want to continue get my game better so I can get ready for the season coming up and for training camp.”