On June 22nd, 2017, with the 12th pick in the NBA draft, the Detroit Pistons selected Luke Kennard, 6”5 sophomore shooting-guard from Duke University. As the season comes to a close and the 13th pick of the draft, Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell is a top choice for the Rookie of the Year award, the disdain for Kennard amongst Pistons fans is at an all-time high.
In hindsight, it’s extremely easy to say that the Pistons should have taken Mitchell, or that Kennard was a “bust” pick. I am not trying to slander Mitchell or even levy them against each other, but the goal is to highlight or show that Kennard is a pretty good player himself and fits the Pistons’ needs very well.
One of the biggest question marks about the Pistons roster going into the 2016-2017 off-season was the free agency of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the depth at the shooting guard position. The only other options at the two guard were Reggie Bullock, who missed 51 games with a torn meniscus and Darrun Hilliard who never really panned out to be the player Stan Van Gundy and the rest of Detroit’s brain trust hoped he would become.
With odds seeming that KCP would be leaving, that already narrowed the Pistons options into either finding a new shooting-guard of the future in the draft or sign a free agent. As many know, the Pistons wouldn’t become instant contenders with the addition of a veteran guard out of free agency, so all signs pointed to finding their guy in the draft and maturing him in their system.
With the NBA moving in the direction it is offensively, the Pistons were being left behind as they lacked true shooting. The teams’ core seemed to be Reggie Jackson and big man Andre Drummond with a pick and roll type of offense. They shot a lowly 33% from three last year, with their leading shooter being Tobias Harris hitting only 34% of his 3.8 threes a game.
In his two years at Duke, Kennard led the Blue Devils in shooting from beyond the arc with a 43.8 percentage and on top of that he added a solid 86 percent from the free-throw line. Not to discount Mitchell, but he only shot 25 percent from the 3-point line his freshman year at Louisville and 35 percent his sophomore year. With such a need to improve from beyond the arc, Kennard looked to be a sure choice if you’re looking for a career 40 percent or higher 3-point shooter.
On top of his threat from the arc, Kennard added an overall scoring threat of being able to create his own shots. When shooting from inside of the arc, he made 52 percent of his 2-point attempts. With Andre Drummond coming to his own as a center and post-scorer it’s important that Detroit added depth and scoring versatility at the guard position, especially as Reggie Jackson’s health became a worrisome topic.
One of Kennard’s biggest holdups in his rookie season was the opportunity log serious minutes. As many took problem with how Stan Van Gundy coached Detroit throughout the season, one of the biggest complaints is his failed point guard rotation during Reggie Jackson’s absence. On top of players such as Langston Galloway and Dwight Buycks constantly getting DNPs by coach decision, Kennard rarely got the minutes he deserved to show what he could provide.
People shredding the front office apart are so quick to point to Donovan Mitchell’s production and consistent contribution to his team, but never really look at the difference in opportunity. Mitchell was thrust into a starting role for a recovering Jazz team that had just lost their franchise player Gordon Hayward to the Celtics. That hole in their roster allowed Mitchell to come right into the league as a starter and ended up averaging 33 minutes a game.
Kennard, on the other hand, wasn’t so fortunate with the opportunity to play. In this year’s season, he only logged 20 minutes in 31 games. Of those 31 games, very few of the minutes are played alongside the starting unit. I believe Kennard and his offensive skills would best be utilized alongside newly blossoming wingman Reggie Bullock. A lineup featuring the two of them would provide the Pistons with one of the most important things in today’s NBA, spacing. Though the two of them officially played at the shooting guard position last year, Bullock is a tall guard at 6”7 and could easily log good minutes at small forward. Amongst all NBA shooting-guards, both Kennard and Bullock finished the season in the top 10 for three-point percentage. Reggie finished first with 44.5 percent beyond the arc, while Luke wasn’t far behind finishing 6th with 41.5 percent from deep.
As the year wound down and Reggie Bullock was shut down because of knee soreness. Kennard was finally given his opportunities to start. In the final four games of the year, Kennard took over the starting shooting-guard position and shined. In those 4 games, he had a nice scoring output, averaging 15.8 points per game. Not only did he add a nice scoring punch, but he did it efficiently shooting 56 percent from beyond the arc and 50 percent overall from the field.
Although it is quite a small window, I believe the final four games were a true look at what Luke Kennard can provide. With the times he’s been given a larger amount of minutes and ball responsibility, he’s shown that not only can he play well alongside the starting players, but that he can get his own shots when needed. By no means is the goal of this piece to say that Kennard is a better player than Donovan Mitchell. They’re both great young talents but both were given different opportunities and fit different roles. Mitchell is a volume shooter who averaged 17 FGA a game during his 33 minutes per game. Kennard, on the other hand, is a precision shooter who made the most of little opportunities this year, only taking 6.5 FGA a game. Possibly given the right opportunity next year, alongside a healthy load of minutes, Luke Kennard will go on to be one of the top shooters in the league again next year, hopefully quieting some of the dreadful fears of Detroit’s recent draft decisions.
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