Detroit Pistons rookie Luke Kennard ready to prove himself on defense

Every rookie has something to prove at Summer League, some more than others.

Luke Kennard arrived in Orlando not only as the Piston’s top pick in the 2017 draft, but the top suspect in the eyes of coach Stan Van Gundy.

Not long after Kennard was the No. 12 choice on draft night, the no-holds-barred Van Gundy picked his defense apart.

“He’s got to get a lot better, and quite honestly, in my opinion, he’s got to take a lot more pride in it than he did this past year,” Van Gundy said. “Whether it was carrying the offensive load or what it was, he’s got to change his entire defensive approach. That’s the answer to him being able to get on the floor. He’s got to do that to be able to play.”

Mission accomplished, at least the part where the 6-6 guard will get a chance to be on the court during training camp.

Kennard averaged 17.2 points and shot 48 percent from the 3-point line in five games at the Orlando Summer League and, most importantly, showed that he’s got the tools and the willingness to play defense.

What was clear from the very start is that Kennard is a polished offensive player and knows how to get his shots and get to the basket. That’s a big reason why the Pistons took him instead of the more athletic and explosive Donovan Mitchell, who went to Utah with the next pick (traded from Denver).

You could see it in the way Kennard slipped in behind a curl through the lane by teammate Lorenzo Brown and was wide open to take a bounce pass for an easy bucket one day against Miami and you could see it the next day in the way he took in the title game against Dallas. The lefty shot 9-for-15 against the Mavs, including 3-for-3 behind the arc, to finish with 24 points. He hit a 3-pointer to force overtime and scored all seven of the Pistons points in the OT.

“He’s clearly a guy with no fear,” Van Gundy said at the end of the week in Orlando. “I don’t think anything’s going to bother him. He’s going to go out and play, so he’s got that kind of toughness.”

Kennard is not quick, but he’s smart and knows how to anticipate what’s going to happen next. He won’t dazzle with an athletic feat, but can beat you simply by making the right play.

He also showed that he knows his weakness.

“The main focuses I had coming into this was learning a lot on defense,” said Kennard. “Obviously, to learn about the entire game, but especially defensively and just to be in the right spots. This is a very mental game.You have to be mentally prepared and focused at all times.That’s what I’m trying to lock in and focus on and, defensively, I think I’ve improved since I’ve been here.”

He showed enough for the Pistons to move on from free agent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, which could save a team over the salary cap a big hit paying the luxury tax. The Pistons traded for Avery Bradley, but his contract expires at the end of the 2017-18 season, leaving an opening for Kennard to carve out his place.

“It’s been a positive,” Van Gundy said. “I told him that I would walk out of these two weeks, either saying he has a chance, certainly no guarantees, but he has a chance to play next year or I’m going to be saying he needs a year and let’s just forget about him.

“He has a chance, he has a chance to play. I’ve seen enough to know that. How far he comes through the summer and the rest of training camp and during the season, we’ll see.”

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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