Kennard sees Casey’s offense as a fit for what he does best: “100 percent”

Luke Kennard is ready to go after a minor knee injury prevented him from participating in Summer League.
Nathaniel S. Butler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – A robust debate could spark on the question of which Pistons player will benefit most from Dwane Casey’s vision of a wide-open offense that puts a premium on spacing and 3-point shooting. Luke Kennard surely would be a prime contender.

“We have set plays, but most of the time he just wants us to run and play to our strengths,” Kennard said. “He wants us to play off the dribble and just move the ball, play smooth. I love that kind of feel and that kind of offense. I really do.”

The Pistons knew they were getting a shooter when they drafted Kennard 12th in 2017, suspected they were getting a playmaker and hoped they were getting someone whose defense would be good enough to allow full exploitation of that offensive package.

That proved pretty much the case, but the breadth of Kennard’s offensive skill set might have exceeded expectations. The biggest adjustment he faced at the offensive end was inconsistent assertiveness. There were times Kennard made something happen on every possession and times where he’d be back on the bench without leaving a fingerprint on the game. A rookie, in other words.

But when he was in his element and the ball was finding Kennard more often than not, he showed that what made him a star at Duke could translate to the NBA – a player who breaks your back with consecutive 3-pointers, goads you into overextending the next time down and sneaks inside for an easy basket or a deftly placed bounce pass for a teammate’s layup or lob for a dunk.

This offense – this Casey vision – should enhance the things Kennard does best.

“One hundred percent,” Kennard said. “It’s a thing where the floor is really spaced out.”

Kennard doesn’t know if he’ll start or come off the bench, but Casey has been pretty clear about what he expects from him.

“Shooting the ball, honestly. Just shooting the ball and making plays, too. He wants me to get in the paint and make plays for other guys, using my passing ability as well as my shooting ability to take us to another level. It’s been good, the way he’s envisioned myself playing in this system and I feel confident about it.”

Kennard’s plan to leave Las Vegas with his ability to make an impact imprinted on Casey’s brain evaporated when he suffered a knee injury in the first Summer League practice. It didn’t require any surgical remedy, but the Pistons were cautious in how Kennard approached the rest of his summer. He was able to get some shooting in and they modified his weight training, but he only recently got full clearance, he said.

“I’ve been able to keep up with what I’ve been wanting to do, which has been nice,” he said. “The biggest thing was just not being able to play. Especially with the new coaching staff. I wanted to use Summer League to show them what I could do so it was disappointing and frustrating. But I don’t think it’s held me back in any way.”

Kennard played 20 minutes a game as a rookie and had no difficulty transitioning to the deeper NBA 3-point line, shooting .415 from the arc. Casey probably wants to see a few more attempts than the 4.8 per-36 minute rate Kennard owned, which figures to be addressed by an increased comfort level in year two – and also by Casey’s mantra to hunt open threes.

“Every day he talks about it,” Kennard said. “That’s being ingrained by him just saying it every day. He’s preached that from the beginning. Our shot spectrum is what he calls it. Shots at the rim, layups, free-throw line and then running for threes. We have enough good playmakers and shooters and scorers to get the shots that we need to help us win and that Coach wants.”

If you’re betting on who gets more of those shots than he got last year, Luke Kennard would be a good place to start.