After a victory over the Chicago Bulls last night, their first win at the United Center in nearly eight years, the Detroit Pistons have found themselves on a four-game winning streak heading into tonight’s contest with the Miami Heat. It appears the Pistons are building chemistry, learning what works, and finally getting over their lackluster second halves. There is a common denominator in most of the Pistons’ victories this season – playing time for Kentavious-Caldwell Pope. It is no coincidence that KCP is averaging 10 minutes more per game in Pistons’ victories.
Earlier in the season, many fans were griping at the fact that Rodney Stuckey was receiving so many minutes while Pope sat on the bench. It was a justified move, as KCP was still struggling to adjust to the speed of the NBA game on offense while Stuckey was playing some of the best basketball of his career. However, while Stuckey typically plays more minutes, head coach Maurice Cheeks needs to make sure he leaves room in his lineup for Pope going forward.
Caldwell-Pope’s offensive game is finally starting to come around to acceptable levels, but it is his defense that should keep him in the rotation. The Pistons are incredibly weak defending the perimeter, and it has a dramatic, negative impact upon the rest of the defense. Detroit’s front court is not fast enough to cover the entire floor very effectively, so when they are forced to make quick rotations due to poor perimeter defense, it becomes very easy for the offense to move the ball around to find an open shot.
Caldwell-Pope’s greatest strength is the closest Detroit has to a solution for this problem. His off-the-ball defense provides some much-needed relief for Andre Drummond, Josh Smith and Greg Monroe. Staying in front of the man with the ball is one thing, but stopping your assignment from being able to receive the ball can disrupt the entire flow of the offense. Forcing your opponent to find an alternate route to setup the offense puts you in the advantage. This is what KCP brings to the table that the other Detroit guards do not. With Caldwell-Pope on the floor, the Pistons’ front court can stay at home and make the offense react to them instead of the other way around. When he is off the floor, the Pistons’ guards tend to lose their man and put the rest of the defense in a vulnerable position.
On/off court statistics properly paint the picture of Caldwell-Pope’s defensive impact. According to 82games.com, the opposing offense is scoring 10vfewer points per 100 possessions when KCP is on the floor. Even though Detroit’s offense is scoring five fewer points with KCP in the lineup, they have a positive point differential.
The Pistons’ biggest weakness is in the guard spots. Since Caldwell-Pope has been put into the starting lineup, however, their overall play has increased dramatically. Chauncey Billups should be returning to the lineup soon, but Pope’s bearing on the team’s defensive efficiency should make the decision of who to start a no-brainer. Billups can be a quality backup point guard while remaining a team leader. With the way he affects the rest of the lineup, it is vital for Caldwell-Pope to remain on the floor.