Way Too In Depth Luke Kennard Season Preview.
Our Pistons preview continues today with second-year shooting guard Luke Kennard.
About Last Year:
Despite being overshadowed by Donovan Mitchell, (who will not be mentioned again in this piece), Luke Kennard had a very strong rookie season. For all the clamoring about Kennard not getting played enough and SVG being too stubborn, Kennard played 20 minutes per game in 73 games, which is not too shabby for a rookie on a team attempting to win games.
From the get-go his shooting was elite and he finished the season shooting 41.5% from deep. The volume wasn't as high as you would like with 4.8 attempts per 36 minutes, (for comparison, Reggie Bullock shot 5.8 per 36 last year) but it's still good. Per Synergy Sports, he ranked in the 96th percentile as a spot up shooter, a truly elite mark, especially for a rookie. He also showed some of the ball-handling and playmaking chops he showed in college. He struggled, and likely will continue to struggle, to finish in the lane and at the hoop, but he's got a good feel and touch on passes and is crafty in getting space for jumpers inside the arc. Also, Kennard is one of the few who is so good as a shooter that you don't mind him shooting long-twos so much.
The best news from Luke's rookie campaign was that he wasn't actually a total dunce on defense. Not to over-state his abilities, he will likely always be a liability against high-level ball-handlers, but he made smart and crisp rotations and has good instincts for jumping into passing lanes for steals. His good head for the game also continued to his rebounding, where he was above average for his position.
All in all, Kennard probably could've had a chance to do more in his rookie year, but it was still a very solid season for Kennard and one that he can and should be able to build on towards bigger and better things.
What to expect this season:
Kennard is likely to continue to come off the bench, Reggie Bullock should rightfully have a starting spot locked up and it would be a surprise to see Casey go so small in the starting lineup with Kennard and Bullock. That said, Kennard should be looking to get more ball-handling duties and more opportunities to do stuff. Don't be surprised if Kennard's minutes don't end up jumping a lot, Casey has always been defense first and is likely to give Galloway more run than SVG did last year which would eat into Kennard's minutes, but he should still have a larger role.
Kennard will largely operate in similar areas that he did last year. He is an elite spot-up shooter so he will spend a lot of his time doing just that. Providing space for his teammates and easy assists when defenses leave him alone. As last season went on, he got more and more comfortable with letting fly quicker so expect him to start this season in the same mode. He has a deadly quick release and is tall enough to not need a lot of space to get a shot off, having him on the floor will always make your offense better.
Beyond the spot-up shooting, Kennard is much more capable with the ball in his hands than your typical spot-up type and he proved, clearly, that he is more than just a shooter last season. He's very comfortable pump-faking a defender and stepping into a shot.
He also is even comfortable running some pick and roll as a ball-handler, and his deadly shooting makes him a different kind of threat since you have to actually defend the long-two.
His ball-handling is goofy, Kennard is quick in tight spaces, but is very slow end-to-end. As such, his ball-handling has an off-beat aspect to it where he lulls defenders to sleep and just snakes his way to where he wants to get, but his jumper is so quick that he catches guys unaware with regularity.
Kennard's passing is sometimes a little bit over-ambitious, he enjoys making flashy passes, but he has really good feel and vision whether it be in transition or in the half-court. This was backed up by him dishing 3.1 assists against 1.7 turnovers per 36 minutes last season, which is a really solid mark for a young player.
Kennard will have to find a way to finish inside if he is going to make a big step towards being a high-level offensive player. He simply can't jump very high and has a notoriously small wing-span, as such when he drives into the paint he got blocked a lot.
I'm not sure if there is any amount of craftiness and polish that will allow him to be a consistent finisher at the hoop, he can, however, expand his ability and comfort with floaters and other flip shots. If he's been paying close attention to the way that Reggie Jackson manipulates defenses with his wide array of floaters and runners, Kennard could find his way to being a high-level scorer. If not, his ceiling will be pretty hard-capped as a really good role player.
Kennard's defense was one of the biggest surprises of last season. He was a terrible defender at Duke in every way, but showed up in the NBA and had a renewed desire to do things right. He did all the typical white-guy stuff on defense by making smart rotations, having a good nose for the ball, and being tough enough to compete with guys even when he was overmatched in size and/or athleticism. Hopefully, he spent some of this past offseason trying to gain even a small amount of side-to-side quickness, but as long as he continues to build on his rookie season as a whip-smart defender he should be ok.
Like his finishing at the hoop on offense, Kennard's one-on-one ability on defense will have a big say in how good he can become. If he remains as much of a liability as he usually was last year then he caps out as a guy who is a smart enough defender to be a good role-player but it will be hard to have him on the floor at the end of games. If he can get to be even mediocre in one-on-one situations, then he could become much more.
All in all, expect Kennard to mostly slide into a similar spot on defense as he did last year. For the most part, he will make the right rotations and play hard enough that he isn't a big negative, but there will be games where he ends up having to guard good players on too many possessions and will be an issue.
There wasn't a whole lot of talk about Kennard as a leader or anything, which is fine since he was a rookie, but his defensive improvement bodes well for his future as being a good teammate. He clearly is a guy who is willing to put in work to become as good as he can be which typically bodes well for locker-room stuff.
On the floor, Kennard's combination of shooting and passing is the sort that everyone loves to play with at any level of basketball so I'm sure most guys like playing with him. Kennard may or may not become any sort of leader or someone like Channing Frye where people rave about how great he is in the locker-room, but he is likely a mostly positive, he works hard and is a player guys should like playing with.
Biggest Question for the coming season:
How much ball-handling will the Pistons trust him with/can he be trusted with? If he becomes a true secondary ball-handler or is even allowed to be the de-facto point-guard his game could change significantly and it could be fun. If he is unable to do such things or Casey simply doesn't want to try it, then he will likely have a very similar season to his rookie year.
Best Case Scenario:
Kennard plays at such a high-level early in the season that Dwane Casey decides to take the leap of faith and start Kennard next to Bullock. It is a huge success and the Pistons offense becomes super-charged with the pair of elite shooters on the floor, Kennard is also allowed to be a lead option with bench units and does well. His defense takes a step forward and he isn't always getting blocked in the paint. Kennard cements himself as a starting-caliber player in his second season and allows the Pistons to be choosy with their pair of free-agent wings next off-season.
Worst Case Scenario:
Langston Galloway jumps Kennard in the rotation for defensive purposes and Kennard's minutes get sparse. To make matters worse, Kennard's shot falls towards being just good instead of an elite and whenever he tries to drive he is still getting the life blocked out of him. Defensively he takes a step back as whatever fire was lit under him last season has left, and his minutes slowly dwindle until he falls totally out of the rotation. By the end of the season, there are serious questions about Kennard's future with the franchise.
So in conclusion...
Wink knowingly at your friends if:
Kennard is shooting 6+ three's per 36 minutes.
More ball-handling, and it works.
"Is Luke Kennard, like, a good defender?"
Run for the hills if:
His jumper is not quite as wet.
"Could Luke Kennard guard me?"
"Why is Langston Galloway still in?"
Opportunities for me to look stupid:
50/40/90 (this will require a substantial jump in his overall percentage lol)
He gets more ball-handling and other than still getting blocked a lot it goes well.
His defense remains similarly sound but there isn't some epiphany.
What do you think? Can he hold off Galloway? How much ball-handling should he get?