Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was 4-of-8 on 3-pointers Sunday. (Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)
Orlando, Florida – The results of summer league can often be taken with a grain of salt, as there’s very little by way of actual NBA competition and NBA coaching, but players often announce upcoming breakout seasons with strong weeks in July.
Last season, Oklahoma City reserve guard Reggie Jackson looked two steps quicker, a lot hungrier than even the fringe NBA player and dominated the competition, giving way to his eye-opening season where he helped the Thunder back to the Western Conference Finals.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is playing the part of “Mr. July,” hoping it’ll translate into November. The second-year guard scored 30 and grabbed 12 rebounds in the Pistons’ 85-82 win Sunday over the Memphis Grizzlies.
Before a pass made its way to Caldwell-Pope in the right corner, Peyton Siva could be heard saying, “Bang, bang!,” signaling the ensuing triple. Siva, who played another heady game with 12 points, seven assists and five rebounds in 28 minutes, was already backpedaling downcourt.
Considering Caldwell-Pope began the game with a rare six-point trip, where he was fouled on a triple make, grabbed the rebound off his missed free-throw and hit another three, it’s not surprising to see everyone having supreme confidence in a player who had a disappointing rookie season.
“That helped, it got me going. I was on the whole night. Made plays for me and the whole team,” said Caldwell-Pope, who made four of his eight 3-point attempts, following up his 26-point debut Saturday.
“I wanted to continue to stay aggressive on both ends. I just feel more comfortable. I’m starting to relax and just play, not think too much.”
Other players stood out, including free-agent forward DeAndre Liggins, with his defense on the wings, but Caldwell-Pope was the headliner, drawing rave reviews from scouts and executives alike sitting courtside.
Pistons summer-league coach Bob Beyer was trying his best to temper expectations when asked about the comparison to Jackson, who dominated summer league after his second season, scoring a record 35 points on the Pistons in the finale last July.
“I don’t want to say no, I hope yes,” Beyer said. “There’s 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.”
In the opener, Caldwell-Pope got six steals. On Sunday he went to the glass early and often, taking heed to Beyer’s call of the Grizzlies’ summer team following the stance of their real team: rough, tumble and physical — while also ignoring his tired legs from the two-a-day practices the Pistons have endured the last week in Florida.
“They’re back, they’re holding up,” said Caldwell-Pope, referring to his legs. “The seven practices, the two-a-days, they took a lot out of me. Now I’m back, ready to roll.”
Grizzlies summer-league coach Shawn Respert took Caldwell-Pope aside after the game, commending him for his performance while also giving him some valuable advice he can use not only next week but down the line.
Respert, the former Michigan State star, told the guard when he’s a focal point on offense, he needs to pick his spots on defense so he won’t tire himself out on plays where he’s not involved. Caldwell-Pope relies on that end, of course, but on a summer-league team with few dependable scoring options, Respert told him to conserve his energy on both ends.
“I feed off my defense, it gets me going,” Caldwell-Pope said. “I know the offense will come so I’ll continue to work on the defensive end.”
“This is a great start. It’s a great start for me. I’ll continue throughout this week to play well and carry it into camp.”