Depleted roster forces big minutes on Kennard – and he responds with career night

Luke Kennard has scored 17 and 19 points in the last 2 Pistons games, wins over conference rivals Miami and Indiana.
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

PHILADELPHIA – Three games together. That’s what the Pistons have gotten from their two best shooters, Reggie Bullock and Luke Kennard.

And even that’s exaggerating it. By the time Kennard returned from a 16-game injury absence last week against Oklahoma City, Bullock had already departed with a sprained ankle suffered in the first three minutes.

Bullock missed his fourth consecutive game in Monday’s loss to the 76ers when Kennard gave the first evidence yet that he’s shaken off the rust of his rehab from a separated shoulder. His 28 points in 37 minutes – career highs on both counts – were the most encouraging news of a bleak week marked by injuries and a five-game losing streak.

When Dwane Casey took the Pistons job last June, surely he envisioned the 3-point shooting Bullock and Kennard promised as a necessary ingredient to unlock the power dynamic of an offense built around Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. The fact Bullock has missed six games and Kennard 16 of the first 25 isn’t the only reason the Pistons entered Monday’s games 29th in 3-point shooting, but it’s far and away the biggest.

So it was no surprise Casey’s biggest takeaway from their night in Philadelphia was what a healthy Kennard could mean for his offense.

“I thought Luke Kennard came out and gave us 3-point shooting,” he said. “It was very positive.”

“I’ve been struggling since I got back,” Kennard admitted. “Coaches, teammates, they just tell me to stay confident, stay aggressive. So that was my mindset coming into it. We knew we had some guys out, so just took the opportunity to play hard and try to get a rhythm back.”

Kennard hit 5 of 8 3-pointers, by himself making it a better than average night from the arc. His teammates combined to go 4 of 13 and that’s been the story of the season. There usually isn’t more than one player, almost never more than two, enjoying a productive night from the 3-point line. Sometimes it’s Bullock, sometimes Griffin, sometimes Langston Galloway, but rarely have the Pistons gotten simultaneous hot shooting nights from the perimeter.

If Bullock gets back soon – and he’s walking without a limp and able to go through shooting drills, at least – then Casey might opt to make Kennard’s move to the starting lineup Monday for Glenn Robinson III more permanent. As it stands, Robinson’s own sprained ankle suffered on Monday – he’ll have an MRI today after X-rays were negative – make him doubtful for Wednesday’s game at Charlotte, at minimum.

Kennard’s teammates know how important the dimension he adds can be as they try to find one or two other bedrock elements to complement Griffin’s 25.6 points a game and Andre Drummond’s presence around the rim as an offensive rebounder and lob target.

“Luke’s a scorer,” Drummond said. “He’s done that for the years we’ve had him and now that his legs are back, coming back from that tough injury, it’s night and day for him. It’s really good to have him back.”

Kennard seemed tentative in his first few games back from the shoulder injury, making 1 of 12 triples, but the necessity of playing big minutes at Philadelphia with Bullock, Ish Smith, Stanley Johnson, Griffin and then Robinson all unavailable helped him play catchup.

“It was good just to play,” he said. “I got a little winded there toward the end, but overall my conditioning is great. I think it’s where it needs to be. Just being out for that period of time, it felt good to get back out there. It felt good to make some shots. Just got to try to carry this over to the next game.”

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