When the Pistons traded for Avery Bradley it was surprising. Not only because the Celtics parted with one of their best guards, but it was proof that Detroit was ready to move on from a young prospect in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The Pistons entered the offseason with plans to re-sign Caldwell-Pope, but the two sides could never reach terms on a deal with Detroit staying firm on a five-year, $80 million offer.
It initially sounds like Detroit wasn’t interested in bringing back Caldwell-Pope to avoid putting the team into luxury tax territory, but Stan Van Gundy was adamant that they were willing to go into the tax for him. What changed everything was the Bradley trade. Boston needed to dump a player so they could pay Gordon Hayward and it turned out Bradley was the exact player that the Pistons needed.
However, by choosing Bradley the Pistons were essentially picking him over Caldwell-Pope. Detroit chose a 27-year-old, shorter guard over the 24-year-old, longer and taller wing’s potential. This is a risky move for a team that didn’t make the playoffs last season. Bradley might make them better right now, but what if Caldwell-Pope breaks out and reaches his potential elsewhere?
So far, there isn’t much reason for Detroit to believe that Caldwell-Pope has that breakout ability. The main draw is defense and 3-point shooting, but he’s inconsistent on the defensive end and a career 33 percent shooter from deep. His on/off numbers last year weren’t pretty, either. He had a -4.0 net rating on the floor and Detroit was seven points per 100 possessions better on defense when he sat. The expectation for him entering the offseason was somewhere close a max contract, but he has yet to give the Pistons reason to give him that kind of money.
Bradley, however, has improved every year. Never mind that he’s such an incredible defenderabout Bradley being left off the All-Defensive team. Bradley has become everything that the Pistons wanted Caldwell-Pope to be. He’s a great shooter, can handle the ball and create for others, or harass opposing ball handlers. He has become a better player every year, and that is not something Detroit can just pass on for the sake of potential.
Detroit couldn’t afford to wait and see if Caldwell-Pope was going to ever become a Bradley type player when Bradley was already available to them. In this sense the trade and replacement was a no-brainer. However, this doesn’t mean Caldwell-Pope can’t ever reach that potential.
Bradley was a great defender last season, but there’s a general consensus that he took a step back. Some of this had to do with playing next to a poor defender like Isaiah Thomas. It was impossible for a 6-foot-2 Bradley, guarding shooting guards, to also make up for the 5-9 Isaiah Thomas. However, if Bradley is so influenced by what’s around him then how will he handle Detroit?
Caldwell-Pope has struggled with the Pistons, but one area that can’t be entirely blamed on him is defense. He’s inconsistent as an individual defender, but there is reason to believe that he’s not a bad defender, either. Caldwell-Pope plays a lot of his minutes with Andre Drummond. Last season, Drummond had the second lowest net rating on the team ahead of only Reggie Jackson. Detroit was better on both sides of the ball when Drummond sat and it turns out Caldwell-Pope’s defensive numbers were much better without him.
When Caldwell-Pope was on the floor Detroit gave up 107.7 points per 100 and that would fall to a 100.9 when he was on the bench. That fits with the idea that Caldwell-Pope isn’t a good defender, but add in Drummond and it flips entirely. When Caldwell-Pope plays with Drummond the Pistons give up 110.8 per 100. When Caldwell-Pope plays without Drummond they only give up 98.2 per 100. For reference, the Spurs had the best defense in the NBA last year with a defensive rating of 100.9. Detroit’s defensive numbers were better than San Antonio’s when Drummond sat.
All of this isn’t to say that picking Bradley over Caldwell-Pope was the incorrect move. Caldwell-Pope is still a mediocre shooter, who shoots even more when Drummond is off the floor. What this means is that Detroit has to make Bradley and Drummond work together. If the Pistons truly believe that Drummond is their center of the future and Bradley is the best option for them in their back court then those two have to co-exist.
Bradley is an excellent player, but to be at his best he needs a team around him that can bring out his best. That means he and Drummond have to co-exist. The Pistons never figured out how to make Drummond work with Caldwell-Pope, but maybe this will be different. They need it to be different.