Duke’s Kennard highlights a star-studded Pistons draft workout

Luke Kennard says the draft feels ‘like it’s been forever ago’ as he settles in with his new team, the Pistons.
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by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – A month ago the question was how heavily the Pistons might consider Luke Kennard with the 12th pick. Today it’s more likely whether they’ll have the chance to consider him at all.

Kennard – who along with Duke teammate Harry Giles and Wake Forest’s John Collins, three potential lottery picks, made for a high-powered four-player workout group the Pistons hosted on Saturday – said he’ll work out for four teams that pick ahead of Detroit.

Kennard, who averaged 19.5 points last season as a Duke sophomore, said he has workouts scheduled with Orlando (picking sixth), New York (eighth), Dallas (ninth) and Charlotte (11th). The Pistons have the 12th pick and Kennard’s shooting ability – he shot 44 percent from the 3-point arc as a sophomore – surely will be appealing to Stan Van Gundy.

But Kennard isn’t the second coming of Kyle Korver or J.J. Redick, who inflict almost all of their damage by moving off the ball, coming around screens and firing from the arc. Kennard has a sophisticated off-the-dribble game, savvy in the art of creating space and drawing fouls.

If he successfully melds the games of the three players he says he’s most drawn to studying, the Pistons would have themselves a future Hall of Famer should they land Kennard in the June 22 draft.

“I’m a student of the game,” he said. “I love to study film and watch not only myself but other players. Klay Thompson, the way he moves without the ball, the way he can shoot the ball. He’s always in the right spot. Love to watch him. And then I like Rodney Hood a lot. He’s a Duke guy; he’s a lefty. He can really shoot the ball and he loves to compete. And then (Manu) Ginobili. He’s really creative. Just love his competitiveness. So I love to watch those three guys.”

Collins recalls the Wake Forest scouting report on Kennard.

“That guy can score at all levels, get to the cup,” he said. “He’s a hell of a shooter. Mid-range game, has a little handle to him. When he gets hot, he gets hot. Your goal is to really put pressure on him, make him take tough shots. He’s going to hit some tough shots – but you can live with those shots – but just make sure he can’t get going, can’t get open, can’t get into a rhythm. That’s the big thing.”

Kennard said as soon as Duke’s season ended and he made the decision to leave, he began getting comfortable with the NBA’s 3-point line, understanding how important that would be not only to his success in the league but to his draft status.

“It was an adjustment at first. Even the ball is different,” he said. “But after getting a lot of reps, just being focused on that and wanted to get adjusted well, it definitely got a lot better and got more comfortable with it.”

The questions NBA teams will have with Kennard is his ability to defend. It’s not so much a question of athleticism with Kennard – he reportedly recorded a 38½-inch vertical leap at a recent workout – as his length. Though Kennard measured at 6-foot-5½ at last month’s NBA draft combine, he was one of just three players among the 66 who submitted to measurements to have a wing span (6-foot-5¼) less than his height. And Stan Van Gundy, a defense-first coach all the way, prefers length at every position.

But not as much as he prefers finishing games with more points than the opposition. And given the way the Pistons struggled to score last year – and, more specifically, how they struggled to shoot from all areas and especially the 3-point line – Kennard’s innate scoring ability will no doubt be overwhelmingly attractive to him.

Kennard’s scoring versatility – his ballhandling will no doubt fuel Van Gundy’s imagination for ways to use him as a pick-and-roll initiator at shooting guard – is a measure of the very athleticism for which he’s questioned, he suggested.

“I think that comes with being a little athletic, too. It’s not just jumping. Just being able to be creative in different situations, I take pride in that and I’ve really worked hard to show that off in these workouts and just being able to be more than a shooter.”

Kennard spent the bulk of Saturday’s workout at one end being put through shooting drills by Pistons coaches, he said, while the three big men – Kentucky’s Isaac Humphries in addition to Giles and Collins – participated in drills at the other end.

With each shot that ruffled the net, you could imagine Van Gundy alternately smiling and wincing, wondering if Kennard had shot himself out of draft range for the Pistons.