2018-19 Season in Review: Luke Kennard
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Dwane Casey’s first season as Pistons coach delivered them to the playoffs after a two-season absence. The Pistons have 11 of the 15 players who finished the season either under contract for next season or holding team options to retain them.
With the No. 15 and 45 picks in the June 20 draft and the mid-level and biannual exceptions available to supplement the roster, there will be several new additions on board when they gather in September to open training camp.
But as Casey said after the Pistons were eliminated by Milwaukee in the first round, “We’re going to have to grow from within. We have a lot of talent with our young guys, but they have some areas they can get much better.”
Blake Griffin emphatically returned to All-Star status, Andre Drummond likely would have joined him there had the Pistons not slumped during injury-riddled months of December and January, and Reggie Jackson bounced back from two injury-plagued seasons. They again figure to be central to the 2019-20 Pistons.
Then comes the group of young players that played major roles during the playoff stretch drive: rookie Bruce Brown and former lottery picks Luke Kennard and Thon Maker, the latter acquired in February from Milwaukee. The Pistons also will have two other 2018-19 rookies who did most of their work behind the scenes, in practices and the G League in Khyri Thomas and Svi Mykhailiuk.
In our 2018-19 Season in Review series, we’ll take a look at the key players returning for the Pistons in Dwane Casey’s second season.
PLAYER: Luke Kennard
PROFILE: 6-foot-5 shooting guard/23 years old/2 NBA seasons
2018-19 STATS: 11.9 points, 1.8 assists, .394 3-point shooting
STATUS: Kennard is entering the third year of his rookie contract
DID YOU KNOW?: Kennard is naturally right-handed and was an all-state quarterback in Ohio who threw with his right hand. That’s why when you see Kennard drive into the lane and shoot floaters, he’s more apt to shoot it with his right hand than his left. His father’s emphasis on becoming ambidextrous led to Kennard becoming a left-handed jump shooter.
A LOOK BACK: Kennard’s second season was slowed by two injuries – a knee injury suffered in July’s first Summer League practice that essentially kept him off of the court until training camp and a shoulder separation suffered in late October that sidelined him for 16 games. As a result, Kennard for the first half of the season was much the same player as he was as a rookie, often showing flashes of offensive brilliance that led to the Pistons drafting him at No. 12 after two seasons at Duke but at other times playing passively and seeing his minutes reduced. Over the second half of the season, though, Kennard’s consistency and confidence ramped up. Kennard averaged 11.7 points in 26 minutes a game after the All-Star break as opposed to 8.4 in 21 before the break. Kennard became a more assertive player, averaging 6.7 3-point attempts in his second season – and 7.0 per game after January – after averaging 4.8 per 36 as a rookie. In the regular-season finale – with the Pistons needing a win at New York to make the playoffs and playing without Blake Griffin – Kennard scored 27 points. In the first two playoff games at Milwaukee, Kennard led the Pistons in scoring in each game, averaging 20 points.
A LOOK AHEAD: Like all Pistons young players, there’s a big summer ahead of Kennard. He’s a career 40 percent 3-point shooter who’s taken 47 percent of his attempts from the arc, which puts him in elite company – both a high-volume and a high-accuracy distance shooter. It’s already a strength but can become even more of a weapon as Kennard earns more playing time and learns him to both get his 3-point shots off more frequently while also exploiting defenses geared toward reducing those attempts. Kennard’s ability to put the ball on the floor with either hand leaves defenders vulnerable to overaggressive closeouts and his passing and mid-range shooting makes him even more effective. Kennard’s summer focus, he said, will be maintaining his shooting stroke while also focusing on improved physical strength to become a better defender. Dwane Casey said as the season wound down that he wouldn’t even talk to Kennard about offense before sending him into the summer. Kennard acknowledges the need to improve, which becomes more attainable as offense – the thing that got Kennard drafted in the lottery and has always been the quality that defined his value – becomes second nature to him and allows him to marshal a greater portion of his focus at the defensive end.
MONEY QUOTE: “The biggest thing is consistency for me. A lot of it is mental stuff, just being ready, staying confident. I’ve learned, just growing up, being mature, in that sense. I know what it takes. I know there’s still a lot of work to be done. I’m ready to have a really good off-season, really good summer, put the work in and I’m ready to have a good third year.” – Luke Kennard after the playoffs ended