Meek Luke Kennard.
The Pistons drafted Luke Kennard with the 12th overall pick in the draft last night. Despite some rumblings that the Pistons were involved in various talks for deals, they did not end up making any, although that can still change obviously. Also if you want to hear what me and Halbridious thought of him on our Draft prep podcast you can listen to that here. (It should be timestamped right into where we talk about Kennard. If it isn't it is right at 28 minutes in)
So who is Luke Kennard?
Luke Kennard is a 6'6 shooting guard out of Duke, who played high school ball in Franklin Ohio, where he famously scored more points than LeBron James in his high school career. In his freshmen season he played 26.7 minutes per game and put up a line of 11.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.5 assists all of which was on solid efficiency. In his sophomore year he made a big leap, playing 35.5 minutes per game, scoring 19.5 points, grabbing 5.1 rebounds, and dishing 2.5 assists per game. He did this while shooting 43.8% from 3 on 5.4 attempts per game, and a TS% of 63%(!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) WHICH IS ABSURD FOR A GUARD. He was a 2nd team all american this past year.
WHAT ABOUT MITCHELL??
Lets just address this right at the start. A lot of people are pretty upset that the Pistons did not take Donovan Mitchell, the guard out of Kentucky. And while I admittedly am not a huge college basketball guy so I am not a great source for whether or not that is warranted or not, a lot of smart guys really like Mitchell. The main thing I will say is that the biggest complaint people have with Kennard is that they liked Mitchell better, and no one should dislike him much beyond that, because if you look at Kennard's game, there is a ton to like. So even if you wanted Mitchell instead, and even if Mitchell ends up being a better player, that doesn't mean that Kennard isn't going to be good too. On top of that is the obvious caveat of that neither of them have played a single NBA minute yet, remember how upset many people where (including me) when the Pistons passed on Trey Burke for KCP? Lets just give it some time. The main thing I hope is that people do not constantly bring down Kennard because he isn't Mitchell, lets judge Luke Kennard based on what he does, and look at all the stuff he has to offer, because holy smokes this kid has a lot to offer.
Luke Kennard can freaking score the basketball. You have certainly heard the term “shooter” associated with him a bunch, and with good reason. Kennard was generally regarded as the best shooter in the draft and supposedly blew away people at his workouts with how well he shot the 3, and even just the raw stats in college of 43.8% on 5.4 attempts per game is pretty staggering without any context beyond that. But this guy can do a lot more than just shoot, he can legitimately handle the ball and has a fluidity to his game that you don't often see with college players. It is kind of hard to explain, but it is especially clear to someone like me who watches an unhealthy amount of NBA basketball, but most college players, even really good ones, have a certain herky-jerky aspect of their games that suggests the fact that they are still babies who are not really comfortable in their super long bodies. But Kennard is not that, this is kind of silly, but all of his moves looked like NBA moves. Obviously shooting is a central part of his game and is his most attractive quality to the Pistons, but he is not a shooter who happens to be 6'6 so he is a shooting guard in the same vein that Anthony Tolliver is a shooter who happens to be 6'9 so he is a 4. Kennard is a shooting guard who happens to be a really good shooter.
With the shooting though, just his 3 points shooting. Kid can stroke it. He checks all the right boxes for a lethal 3 point shooter, he has a really quick, and fairly high release. He is able to hit shots from every position, whether as a simple spot up guy, off the dribble, coming rocketing off a screen to stop on a dime and pull up Ray Allen style, off balance, and even just straight up rising over top of smaller dudes. But once again, it should be stated that he isn't just a 3 point shooter, he can shoot inside from a lot of angles as well.
Kennard is also not unathletic, which continues to theoretically break his “Typical white guy” mold. I'm not saying that he is going to be posterizing people all over the place, but the comparisons to Reddick or Kyle Korver that have been thrown around a bunch are the most wrong in this area. Neither of those guys were good athletes even by college standards. Kennard can get up, has real speed and real quickness. We will see how he looks on an NBA court, but he has some real tools in the athletic department. He is able to use those tools together with an nice array of nifty finishes to be an effective scorer at the hoop and in the paint as well. He really is a very complete offensive player and scorer.
Lastly, he also has some signs of nice peripherals beyond just scoring. While not a high assist guy, he showed and ability and willingness to make good passes with some regularity, occasionally dipping beyond just the obvious ones and getting into some really nice ones. Essentially he looks like he won't have to make the progression from “does he know he can pass to open guys?” to “generally makes the right pass and even occasionally nice ones” that KCP has made, as Kennard pretty much sits at that second point right now. On top of that, he showed pretty decent rebounding ability for a guard, which also backs up the idea that he is not a bum athletically by any stretch.
The last thing that is great about Kennard, and is something that a lot of people have missed I think, is that he is 20 years old, and he only turned 20 like last week. You just don't very often see guys who are that young and that polished, and that sort of thing does absolutely matter when you think about the ceiling of a player. So many people overly focus on athletic ability when talking about a players ceiling, but skill plays a major part as well. So for instance, most people would've said Stanley Johnson had much higher potential when he was drafted than Kennard does, and many would likely still agree with this sentiment now. But Stanley Johnson is still learning how to do some basic NBA things on offense, Kennard should have that stuff down already, and can work on more complex things. Think of Andre Drummond, he has improved every area of his game from when he came into the league, but his starting point was so low that he is still lacking in a lot of areas, if he had started at a higher point and made the same improvements he would be a much better player today.
All in all, Kennard is not JJ Reddick, or Kyle Korver, or any other stereotypical white guy who just shoots 3s. There is a chance that his best version of an NBA player looks similar in the end, but out of college, he is able to do a lot more, in a lot more variety, at a younger age, than most guys who end up being just shooters.
He's a white guy from Duke. This cannot be ignored. I hate Duke, you hate Duke, everyone hates Duke. On top of that, white guys from Duke have a long history of being somewhere between mediocre to just pretty good in the NBA despite awesome college careers, and there is no amount of off the dribble 3s, drives to the basket, and athletic dunks that can scrub that from my mind when thinking of Kennard.
As far as things that have nothing to do with stereo types, there is legitimate worry about his defensive abilities, and SVG was wonderfully blunt about it in his presser, saying that Kennard's entire mentality had to be different on that end. But he added that of the top 20 guys on their draft board, 2 of them played defense in college, and they seem to think that Kennard has as good a shot of becoming a decent defender as any of them. But the fact still stands, he will have his work cut out for him on that end. He has enough athleticism that he could become something, but he isn't big or long for a shooting guard. Essentially the main worry defensively is that in college he didn't exactly come off as a real grinder who is at least in the right spot and always playing hard defensively, and even though he isn't a bad athlete, he certainly isn't a good enough one to survive without working his tail off on that end. FWIW though, SVG has been part of a lot of players making improvements on the defensive end in his coaching career so there is reason for optimism there. Essentially Kennard, at best, is going to be a serviceable defender.
In the end though, the defense isn't my main worry with him. SVG will get him to not be a total bum on that end in all likelihood. I'm worried about his bust potential with his scoring. This probably sounds odd after I just spent the entire good section talking about what a great and versatile scorer he is, but here is the thing. For him to really be good, the Pistons will probably need him to be able to do some of that ball handling and shot creating, and it is always a bit worrying when you get a guy who isn't a great athlete, but is a great scorer in college. Because there are guys for whom the difference in speed, length, and size, is enough that they no longer can create enough space to score or pass well in the NBA. And the reason this worries me is because there isn't really anything to be done about it, it is a problem Darrun Hilliard has, when he plays in the G-League he literally is James Harden esque, but in the NBA he has been mostly terrible, and there is probably nothing that Hilliard can try and do to change his game to change that other than hope it is still just small sample size and bad luck. Essentially with these types, sometimes you end up being James Harden, and sometimes you end up being Trey Burke. And if you end up being Trey Burke, there is really nothing you can do to change it, the thing that makes you special as a basketball player is something you literally cannot do effectively on the NBA stage. Obviously the benefit is that Kennard is a good enough shooter that even if he can't create looks for himself consistently he can still have a chance to go the Korver/Reddick route and still be a useful player, but that is a hard route to take and most guys fail.
Where does he fit with the Pistons?
He figures to slot right into the rotation as the backup SG. Assuming the Pistons do retain KCP this means Bullock is very likely to be gone, and depending on how things go I wouldn't even be shocked to see Hilliard be let go. (Though I'd still bet on Hilliard being on the team) His minutes are likely to depend heavily on how much SVG ends up trusting his defense, which means there is a good chance that SVG will drive everyone crazy the entire year (again) by constantly talking about how they need to shoot the ball better from 3 (again) while at the same time leaving the teams best shooter on the bench. (again) HOWEVA, based on what the team has said, they seem to think Kennard can make some contributions right away, and even if it isn't a major role, I would expect him to get some real run. He will likely join the bench mob to make it Ish/Kennard/Stanley/Leuer/Boban and unless Stanley or Leuer make big improvements shooting the ball, it may be close to a requirement to have Kennard with those lineups so that they can score at all, because even with Kennard that is some ugly spacing. Regardless of how much he ends up playing, the Pistons should be hoping for him to be a guy who can come off the bench and provide some offensive spark when on the floor, both in terms of his shooting and the spacing he should provide, and also with him creating looks for himself.
Upshot for the rest of the roster:
Once again, Bullock is very likely gone, but the big question mark remains KCP at this point. The Pistons really like Kennard, and the fact that they did draft a shooting guard (so even if they had taken Mitchell instead this would likely still be true) they will probably be able to be a bit more brave in playing hardball with KCP in contract talks, but I don't think they see him as a guy who is good enough that they will get too brave. Letting KCP walk and pushing Kennard into very major minutes (whether as a starter or off the bench if they started Stanley at the 2) is most likely a “break in case of emergency” in the grand scheme of things, but had they not taken a shooting guard they wouldn't even have anything to break in an emergency. This also likely knocks Hilliard down another peg and likely ensures him to never end up getting any real minutes. Lastly, Stanley will have some real pressure on him heading into this season, if SVG sticks with his beloved 9 man rotation and Kennard outplays Stanley in camp, he could be in very real danger. Hopefully though SVG is able to pull his head out of his own ass long enough to just do a 10 man rotation and play Kennard at the 2 and Stanley at the 3 as God intended.
Most realistic (if a bit optimistic perhaps) NBA comparison:
Evan Fournier. I was feeling particularly brave and nearly said CJ McCollum, but decided to tone it down a bit and go for a poor mans CJ McCollum, which is Evan Fournier. Not an elite scorer, but a guy who can get you buckets in a variety of ways and is a really good outside shooter, not a great defender but serviceable. The one caveat here is that Fournier is a bit bigger than Kennard but not by too wide a margin. But watching Kennard I really came away thinking that this guy is going to be more than a shooter, he is a scorer who is a good shooter. And FWIW, if he ends up being as good as Fournier that would be awesome value for the 12th pick.
The Pistons keep KCP at a decent rate which allows Kennard to ease into the NBA playing about 20 minutes per game from the bench. He immediately is a knockdown shooter and shows early flashes of being able to get buckets for himself, but mostly is a mess (but a hardworking one) on defense. After a year or two he really starts to come into his own as a scorer and smooths out his defensive problems and the Pistons trade away whoever is the starting SG at that point at which point Kennard gets the starting spot and given major reigns in the offense and become a 26 point scorer and Ellenson ascends at the same time and they become the Caucasian splash brothers leading the Pistons to 5 straight titles, meanwhile Donovan Mitchell washes out of the league for good measure.
SVG doesn't trust his defense and he rots on the bench, and when he does get into games he can't create his own looks and doesn't even shoot the 3 all that well. Essentially he does what Hilliard had done so far. Meanwhile Donovan Mitchell is leading the Utah Jazz to their 8th straight NBA championship.
There is definitely a good chance that passing on Mitchell comes back to haunt the Pistons down the line, but when I put that and the stigma of him being a white guy from Duke aside, I am incredibly excited to see what this guy can do. His combination of youth and skill give him some real star potential, and his shooting and polish means that he is likely to be fairly useful right away. This is a good pick, and Pistons fans should be thrilled to have this guy.
Also, he is the sort of guy that will probably tear up the Summer league which is nice for all 10 of us who pay the 15 bucks for the Summer league pass lol.
What do you think? What is your NBA comparison? Do you like Kennard enough to let KCP walk? Or do you think so little of him that the Pistons should probably actually hold onto Bullock as well?