After failing to make the playoffs last season, Pistons owner Tom Gores made the call to change course. Ed Stefanski was hired to run the front office and his first big move was to hire Dwane Casey, reigning NBA Coach of the Year. The roster is set, a new coaching staff and front office is in place and training camp is around the corner. In the days leading up to its opening we’ll look at each player on the roster and assess how he fits into the puzzle for the 2018-19 season. Today: Luke Kennard. Monday: Khyri Thomas.
ID card: 22 years old, entering 2nd season, 6-foot-5, shooting guard
Last year in review: After wowing in training camp, Kennard struggled to find his footing early in the season. He didn’t play in the opener, impressed in his debut at Washington two nights later, scored a total of eight points over the next three games and then wasn’t used during a four-game road trip. Three straight two-point outings were followed by three straight double-figures outputs. With Avery Bradley starting, Kennard, Reggie Bullock and Langston Galloway vied for a permanent role in the rotation. After Bradley was dealt in late January and Bullock became entrenched as the starter at shooting guard, Kennard and Galloway were left to fight it out. Kennard eventually pulled ahead in that race and his play over the last six weeks steadily progressed. Kennard, who averaged 7.6 points in 20 minutes a game for the season, averaged 10 points in 13 March games and 14 in six April games, starting the season’s final four games as Bullock was shut down with a minor injury. His .415 3-point shooting percentage made him the rare rookie to crack 40 percent.
Career at a glance: Kennard was a teammate of Stanley Johnson’s on the 2014 USA Basketball U-18 team that won the gold medal at the World Championships. He was a two-sport star at Franklin High in southwest Ohio, being named the state Division III co-player of the year as a junior. In two seasons as starting quarterback, Kennard threw for 3,888 yards and 49 touchdowns. He skipped his senior year of football after committing to Duke to play basketball. Kennard finished No. 2 in Ohio high school career scoring – LeBron James sits at No. 5 – with 2,977 points. Kennard was a part-time starter as a Duke freshman but blossomed into a second-team All-American selection as a sophomore when he averaged 19.5 points and shot .438 from the 3-point line. Kennard was drafted 12th by the Pistons in the 2017 lottery.
Anticipated role: Bullock coming off of a season in which he emerged as an elite NBA 3-point shooter, Dwane Casey will have two strong options at shooting guard. Casey was bold with his use of unconventional lineup combinations in Toronto, so expect any combination of Bullock, Kennard, Stanley Johnson and Glenn Robinson III to be used at anywhere from shooting guard to power forward. If Casey decides to bring Kennard off the bench and stay with Bullock as the starter – where Bullock’s cutting played well off of Blake Griffin’s passing in their time together last season – then it would allow Casey to take full advantage of Kennard’s playmaking ability with the second unit.
It will be a good season if...: Kennard makes the jump to consistently have the impact on Pistons offense that he revealed in spurts last season. There were quarters where Kennard would make something happen on nearly every possession mixed in with stretches where he’d be back on the bench without having left an imprint on the game. With experience and a better sense of his strengths, the trend should be for Kennard to maximize the former and minimize the latter. Kennard’s perimeter shooting and his ability to get defender’s off balance with deft pump fakes or a keen sense of pace and angles gives him plenty of opportunities to work his way into the paint. Scoring at the rim was another story last season and something Kennard was intent on addressing in his second season.