Kennard embraces Casey’s vision of more time with the ball in his hands

Luke Kennard figures to be at the center of the Pistons offense in Summer League as a prelude to an expanded role in the 2018-19 season.
Gary Dineen (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

LAS VEGAS – The Pistons are going to want to get good, long looks at their two draft choices – Khyri Thomas and Bruce Brown – when Summer League games open Friday.

Both Thomas and Brown, though, play the same position – shooting guard – as Luke Kennard. And Dwane Casey and his staff are certainly going to want to give Kennard plenty of run, too.

One way to carve out enough minutes for all three – while simultaneously preparing Kennard for a more central role in next season’s offense – is to shift traditional point guard duties to last year’s No. 1 draft pick.

And Kennard got a glimpse of that in Monday’s first Summer League practice run by assistant coaches Sidney Lowe and Sean Sweeney plus player development coach D.J. Bakker.

“I think it could possibly happen,” Kennard said afterward. “I’m comfortable with it. That’s one of the main things I’ve worked on this off-season and through our first practice here. I had the ball in my hands, coming off of screens and attacking the basket and making plays. If they feel like that’s the right thing, I’m all for it and I’ll be ready for it.”

Kennard flashed varied and potent offensive abilities as a rookie, averaging 7.5 points in 20 minutes a game while doing something few rookies accomplish in shooting 40 percent from the 3-point arc. Casey and Ed Stefanski, in charge of the front office, expect bigger things in his second season, they made clear two weeks ago at Casey’s introductory press conference.

Casey met with Kennard, 22, recently in Los Angeles to discuss how he envisions using him. Kennard and several other Pistons – including Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson and Henry Ellenson – spend some or all of their off-season training in Southern California. Kennard’s connection stemmed from training in L.A. to prepare for the 2017 draft after signing with an agency based there.

“Three-point shooting is a big, big thing,” Kennard said. “He wants me to continue to work on my shot and just be a knock-down shooter. The way we’re going to space the floor, we’re going to have a lot of open shots. Another thing is he wants me to have the ball in situations, coming off pick and rolls, driving, making plays. He wants to put the ball in my hands, so I’m excited for that. I’ve been working on that and it’ll be fun.”

Kennard got plenty of time against Toronto’s bench, regarded as the league’s best and one mostly staffed by young players, in four meetings last season. He knows Casey’s reputation for not only developing players but believing in them – and playing them.

“I think he’s going to develop us into great players,” he said. “I’m looking forward to that. He says people make mistakes, but he’s a guy where he can live with some mistakes – but move on and fix it. It does give me some confidence, does make me comfortable with what’s going on. I’m looking forward to it and I’m excited to put that work out here.”

Kennard didn’t take much down time when the season ended, spending the early days in the weight room. One of his biggest takeaways from his rookie season was the need to add strength to become a better finisher in the paint. The threat of his 3-point shot, his keen sense of pace and his pump fakes to get defenders off their feet are tools that allow Kennard to beat the first wave of defense. Exploiting that ability, though, requires finishing through the traffic of help defense.

“That’s another thing that the coaches have talked to me about was what kind of shots we want,” Kennard said. “Once I found out Coach was our coach, he got in contact with me and we talked about the kind of shots we wanted and first was layups, shots at the rim. So that came right into my mind. That’s one of the big things I wanted to work on. I’m feeling comfortable around that area and going to continue to work on it during Summer League.”

The NBA is a small world, so Casey’s reputation for developing strong relationships with players while still running a tight ship is well known. Kennard came away from their initial meeting with nothing but positive vibes.

“He came to a couple of workouts, we met officially in person and it was great,” he said. “We spoke a lot about this upcoming season, things he wants to do and I’m really excited. He seems like a really good guy and a really good coach.”