First-Round Candidate: Luke Kennard

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

ID CARD: 6-foot-5½ shooting guard, Duke, sophomore, 20 years old

DRAFT RANGE: Ranked 13th by DraftExpress.com; 14th by ESPN.com; third among shooting guards by NBA.com

SCOUTS LOVE: Some guys are shooters, some are scorers, some are both. Kennard looks like he fits firmly in that latter category. He can shoot – from distance, from mid-range, from every angle – but more than that he’s got a knack for scoring no matter what the opposition tries to take away. He ranks second in Ohio high school history in scoring. After finishing third in Duke scoring as a freshman behind lottery pick Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen, Kennard led the Blue Devils as a sophomore at 19.5 a game while shooting 44 percent from the 3-point line and 86 percent on free throws on 5.1 attempts per game. Kennard also is an adept ballhandler and passer and presents intriguing possibilities as the ballhandler in pick-and-roll sets.

SCOUTS WONDER: The big one is whether Kennard’s limited length and athleticism – or perceived lack of the latter, at least – will not only blunt his scoring instincts but also turn him into a defensive liability. Stan Van Gundy often cites J.J. Redick – another Duke shooting guard who had questions about his athleticism looming over him coming out of college – as an example of a superb team defender for his intelligence and assignment certainty. But there are many examples of players who couldn’t overcome such shortcomings in making the leap from college. Assessing where Kennard falls on that spectrum will be the biggest question for personnel departments to answer as they come to a determination of Kennard’s draft value.

NUMBER TO NOTE: 38.5 – That was Kennard’s vertical leap, according to reports, during a workout in Los Angeles. Kennard might not win the Olympic decathlon, but he bristles a little when the line of questioning inevitably turns to his lack of athleticism. There are other measures of athleticism besides running and jumping, like hand-eye coordination, and Kennard’s footwork, anticipation and fundamental soundness can compensate to a degree to deficiencies he might face due to his lack of length.

MONEY QUOTE: “One of the biggest things for me is the strength part. I’ve been working hard to get a lot stronger, which helps with defense – it helps with everything. I really improved on the defensive end and my athleticism, explosiveness, quickness. I’ve definitely improved on my strength throughout this training process, before the workouts started, and it’s really paid off.” – Kennard after working out for the Pistons on Saturday

PISTONS FIT: Given Kennard’s size – 6-foot-5 ½ with an even shorter wing span of 6-foot-5¼ -- it would be tough for him to play any small forward except in cases where the opposition lines up with three guards. If the Pistons retain Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in free agency, their full intention, Kennard would be left to battle 2015 lottery pick Stanley Johnson for backup minutes at that spot. Remember, Johnson played more minutes at shooting guard last season as Van Gundy often used Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris and Jon Leuer in a three-man rotation to occupy all 96 minutes at the power and small forward spots. Despite the question marks over roster fit, Kennard’s scoring versatility would be a badly needed tonic for a roster short on offensive creativity.

BOTTOM LINE: Kennard seemed an unlikely lottery candidate when the college season ended, but his workout schedule includes visits to four teams picking ahead of the Pistons at 12 – Orlando (six), New York (eight), Dallas (nine) and Charlotte (11). It might not be much better than a 50-50 shot that he gets to Detroit’s spot. Given Van Gundy’s success at molding team defenses in Miami and especially Orlando with players who don’t present as great individual defenders, the hunch is the Pistons are going to view Kennard more fondly than some teams and value him more for what he can do – score – than downgrade him for the areas where he’ll be challenged.