Pistons in Review: Luke Kennard
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AUBURN HILLS – A season that began with great promise – a 14-6 start and stirring road wins at Golden State, Boston, Oklahoma City and Minnesota – ended short of the playoffs. For the second straight year, an injury to Reggie Jackson threw a roadblock to the postseason in front of the Pistons.
Since winning 44 games and giving Cleveland four tough games in the 2016 playoffs, the Pistons have endured two frustrating seasons tied to Jackson’s injury absences, finishing with 37 and 39 wins while Jackson missed 30 games with a left knee injury and 37 more with a severely sprained ankle.
But if Jackson’s injury cast a shadow over the 2017-18 season, the ray of light for the future was the acquisition of five-time All-Star Blake Griffin. It cost the Pistons Tobias Harris, pending free agent Avery Bradley and a first-round draft pick, but left the Pistons with a Griffin-Jackson-Andre Drummond core that Stan Van Gundy feels can push the Pistons toward the top of the Eastern Conference.
Almost every player who held an important role with the 2017-18 Pistons is under contract for next season. Over the next few weeks, Pistons.com will take a look at each of them and what the future holds.
PLAYER: Luke Kennard
PROFILE: 6-foot-5 shooting guard/21 years old/1 NBA season
2017-18 STATS: 7.6 points and 20 minutes per game, .415 3-point shooting
STATUS: Kennard has three years remaining on his rookie contract due to pay him $3.3 million for the 2018-19 season
DID YOU KNOW? Kennard was a star quarterback in high school at Franklin High in southwest Ohio. Though Kennard shoots with his left hand, he was a right-handed passer who threw for 2,331 yards and 26 touchdowns as a junior, earning Ohio Division III Player of the Year honors from The Associated Press. Kennard skipped his senior year of football to focus on basketball.
A LOOK BACK: Kennard was a two-time winner of Ohio’s Mr. Basketball award and chose Duke over dozens of scholarship offers after finishing No. 2 in all-time scoring among Ohio high school players. He didn’t become a full-time starter at Duke until the postseason of his freshman season, yet averaged 11.2 points for the season and took a big leap as a sophomore when he averaged 19.5 points and shot 44 percent from the 3-point arc. Kennard declared for the NBA draft after his second Duke season and was picked 12th by the Pistons. A rotation fixture for nearly all of his rookie season, Kennard played 20 minutes a game and finished second – to former Duke teammate Jayson Tatum of Boston – among qualified rookies in 3-point percentage at .415. Kennarfd finished his rookie season with a flourish, averaging 20.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists while hitting 10 of 16 3-point attempts over the final three games.
A LOOK AHEAD: The Pistons will need to add at least one wing player over the off-season, but Kennard is a virtual lock to be a key rotation piece and will challenge for a starting job in his second season. Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson are the other returnees at shooting guard and small forward who’ll be firmly in the mix for minutes at those positions with Kennard the most versatile offensive player of the three. As the season wound down, Kennard said one of the major points of emphasis of his off-season would be to add strength. He quickly assuaged Stan Van Gundy’s draft-night concerns about his ability to grow into a capable defender but adding strength will allow him to take the next step in that regard. On offense, every tool is there; now it’s a matter of pulling the package together and acquiring a keener sense of when to assert himself. Kennard’s high basketball IQ – he has an obvious grasp for spacing and angles – should mean that as he becomes more familiar with personnel he’ll be better able to exploit the breadth of his offensive skills. He’s got a mature mid-range game, elite shooting range and good vision and passing skills with either hand, a result of his ambidexterity. Kennard often shoots with his right hand inside the paint. Finishing near the rim will be an important area of improvement next season and beyond.
MONEY QUOTE: “You’ve got to stay in control. You’ve got to stay poised. I think that’s part of my game, being a poised player. But at the same time, I’m a playmaker and that’s what they want me to be. I’ve been conservative. I’ve held back at some points in the season, but here recently I’m trying to get out of that and just be a playmaker and a poised player. That’s another thing that’s going to be one of my focuses when I can work on it.” – Luke Kennard in late March as his rookie season wound down