Photo courtesy of ESPN
With the 2018-2019 NBA season fast approaching, Off the Glass is making predictions on who the breakout players of each team will be. Today we look at Luke Kennard from the Detroit Pistons.
With the 12th pick in the 2017 Draft the Detroit Pistons secured the rights to Duke sharpshooter Luke Kennard. While being the pick prior to the Utah Jazz selecting Donovan Mitchell will never be a good look, Kennard is a vital component of the Pistons’ march out of mediocrity. His eventual ceiling may be limited to being a tertiary starter or instant offense off the bench for a title contender, but by excelling in one of these roles he could push the Pistons back into the playoffs.
From the outset of his rookie season, Kennard saw solid action off the bench with 20 minutes per game and and as such his opportunities increased as the season wore on. This trend should only continue in his sophomore campaign as a creator and scorer off the bench . New Pistons head coach Dwane Casey has a penchant for believing in young players. How Casey managed his rotation and used his sharp-shooters to maintain spacing helped transform the Toronto Raptors’ offense last season. This quote from Kennard points in the direction that Casey will bring more of the same to Detroit.
“Every day he talks about [spacing],” Kennard told Keith Langlois of NBA.com. “That’s being ingrained by him just saying it every day. He’s preached that from the beginning. Our shot spectrum is what he calls it. Shots at the rim, layups, free-throw line and then running for threes. We have enough good playmakers and shooters and scorers to get the shots that we need to help us win and that Coach wants.”
With his smooth release Kennard shot 41.5 percent from three point land behind only Reggie Bullock(44.5) and Anthony Tolliver(43.6) for the Pistons. Although a whopping 97 percent of his threes came off an assist last season, Kennard has a solid pump fake, creating his own opportunities to drive to the rim. How he utilizes pump fakes will be a major part of his game going forward.
Offensively Kennard is the perfect fit on the wing alongside Bullock, spacing the half court offense for Reggie Jackson and the All-Star big men. Andre Drummond is an underrated passer from the elbows and Blake Griffin still draws a crowd before finding open shooters. Expect Point Blake to continue the inversion of his game towards the perimeter as he drags a rim protector away from the basket. This past season Griffin had 46 dunks and 322 three point attempts compared to 202 dunks and 28 three point attempts in his third season. Kennard, among other Pistons, needs to capitalize on the one on one attacks at an open rim.
Kennard showed promise moving without the ball last season, and if he masters this facet of his game he’ll be able to run with the starters more often. For young players, having the ball in their hands is important for development, For example, Giannis Antetokounmpo today is not the same player he was during the Jason Kidd point guard experiment. But with two point guards and big men capable of distributing and initiating offense the Pistons would be better served scrapping Kennard’s ball handling duties unless injuries forced their hand.
Kennard is capable of taking an outlet pass or rebound to move quickly in transition as a threat to score or find the open man. His handle and passing is better than expected but doesn’t quite bring to mind the innate creativeness of fellow lefty guards James Harden or Manu Ginobili. He is able to make easy reads and throws on target passes but does not possess the court vision you want from a sixth man orchestrator.
Coming into the season Kennard should realize even if he does impress early, he may only play in a bench capacity. At 6’6 206 lbs, he isn’t small by any means, but will get roasted alive if matched up against bigger Eastern Conference starting wings such as Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, or Gordon Hayward.
Photo courtesy of PistonPowered.com
What could throw a wrench in Kennard’s ascension is the acquisition of Glenn Robinson III. He is likely to beat Stanley Johnson out for the starting small forward position and dependent on his shooting prowess, may eat some of the minutes on the wing as a catch and shoot threat. Still neither Robinson nor Bullock are strangers to injury, so opportunities may arise for Kennard to crack the starting lineup throughout the season.
There were times last season Kennard’s teammates implored him to be assertive by shooting the ball more often and Coach Casey has set the same expectations. Hopefully he hears their call and delivers. For the Pistons, Kennard represents their best chance for a young in-house prospect to establish himself as a meaningful player on a championship contender.