The Truth About Luke Kennard

As I recently wrapped up my video on the Pistons’ draft blunders of the past decade, it got me thinking. Stan Van Gundy left the Pistons with some pieces to work with. Most notably, the blockbuster trade that sent Blake Griffin to Detroit, the team’s first true superstar in a very long time. It’s still weird for some seeing Blake in the Pistons’ red and blue opposed to the Clippers’. 

Another gem of a move that has been widely regarded as a mistake was SVG’s selection of Luke Kennard over Donovan Mitchell. Casual NBA fans look at the pick as a blatant mistake, showing the incapacity and dysfunction of the Pistons’ front office and scouting once again.

Our Pistons community, most often, is very like-minded. We actually love Luke Kennard, see the talent he has, and we get frustrated when others don’t see what we see in him. 

We get frustrated when his likeness in 2K has little to no resemblance to him.

We get frustrated when Heat fans proclaim that Tyler Herro is better than him.

This project has been created to combat all Luke Kennard slander and ignorance. The Pistons have a really good young player, and it’s time he gets the recognition he deserves.

Who is Luke Kennard?

Ahh, I’m glad you asked.

The Pistons chose Kennard with the 12th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. After scoring close to 20 points a game as a Duke Blue Devil and reaching second team AP All-American honors in his sophomore season, Kennard declared for the draft. He shot 44% from three in his last season at Duke. At 6-5, Kennard was a two time state of Ohio Mr. Basketball award winner and an all-state quarterback in high school. 

As a rookie, Kennard played in 73 games and started 9 of them. He averaged 7.6 points per game on 44-41-85 shooting splits. He recorded 23 points in an April game against the Bulls, and finished a December game against the Pacers with a +/- of 22 in only 11 minutes of play. Last season, Kennard’s minutes, field goal attempts, and points all increased. Due to injury, he only played in 63 games and started 10. He had his career-high of 28 points in a December 10th loss to Philadelphia. 

Luke made his money in his first playoffs, scoring the first-ever postseason points at LCA and shooting 60% from three on close to 4 attempts per game. He averaged 15 points on 49% from the field through 4 playoff games, in which he played around 33 minutes a night. He was the lone star on a Pistons team that was swept before the series even started.

Kennard is a promising young player in the league, known for his sweet shooting stroke and creativity on offense. On defense, there are still some things to be desired, but he is capable enough to be hidden in lineups with much stronger defenders around him. 

What makes you think Luke Kennard is good?

The most common knocks on Luke come from NBA fans who have never watched him play. He passes the eye test, first and foremost, so for all of you visual learners out there, go watch the video above.

Luke Kennard is smooth, man. He never looks out of position, his shot is consistent from any range and easy on the eye. Luke moves well without the ball, makes great reads, and takes the right shots. He’s a crafty playmaker when driving, and he can also pull it out and create using ball screens. Unlike a lot of young players, he never looks lost. On defense, he moves his feet well and plays in the gaps. He knows his limitations and takes great angles, but still gets beat off the dribble by superior NBA athletes.

Kennard’s offensive firepower has been on display since high school, and we got the first look of it back in the Orlando Summer League in 2017. Kennard single-handedly carried the team in a 24-point outburst against the Mavericks, knocking down several clutch shots. 

Most casual fans don’t watch the games, though, and that’s okay. Statistics do enough for Luke’s case.

Shooters that can crack 40% for their career are known as elite-level NBA snipers. Over two seasons, that’s exactly where Kennard is. It’s a short sample size, and things happen. But for a dude who shot 44% in 200 attempts in his sophomore season at Duke, being a knockdown shooter is in Luke’s past, present and future. I mentioned his playoff stats earlier. He was the only guy who showed up for Detroit in their quick playoff exit against Milwaukee. 

He’s posted a 2-1 assist to turnover ratio in his career, and that’s about exactly how many assists and turnovers he averages per game. This leads me into my main point.

Where are you going with this?

Kennard is not being used enough on the Pistons. He’s only taking 3.4 attempts from outside per game over his whole career. The elite shooters of the NBA, such as Klay Thompson, Bradley Beal, and JJ Redick, all took over 590 three-point attempts last season. Guess how many Luke Kennard took?

269.

It’s only Kennard’s third season, but by this point, he’s proven to the world that he is more than capable of shooting in the upper 30s or low 40s from three. If he takes under 400 threes next season, Dwane Casey is to blame.

Luke Kennard’s usage rate was a hair under 18% last season. For comparison, Blake Griffin’s usage rate was 29.6%. Just so we are all clear, here is NBAstuffer.com’s definition of usage rate:

Usage rate, a.k.a., usage percentage is an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor.

The description goes on to prove my point even further: 

As a result, the greater burden on the superstar means that supporting players maintain low usage rates, allowing them to operate closer to their peak efficiency.

Kennard is as efficient as he is because he is a great shooter, and because he’s taking less shots than he should. I think each and every Pistons fan would be okay with him being a 37% career shooter on many more attempts, limiting the load of scoring Blake has to do to keep the team afloat. Lifting some of the weight off Griffin’s shoulders and placing it on a younger, capable scorer who needs the development? Makes sense to me.

We can’t forget that we saw Blake sacrifice his body for the Pistons this season. So much so, that he missed playoff games, completely eliminating the Pistons’ chances to even steal a game from the Bucks. Throughout the season, and ESPECIALLY in games where we rest Blake for load management, Kennard needs to reach a quota of at least 13 shots a game, compared to his average 8.3 attempts per game last season, and 7.2 on his career.

Let’s get hypothetical and mathematical for a second. Let’s say that Kennard shot the same exact percentages he’s been shooting, but on 13 shots per game.

His 1.4 three-point makes per game turn into 2.5, and his total field goal makes jump from 3.2 to 5.8. 

Kennard’s 434 career field goals turn into 780. His adjusted career splits of 336 three-point makes and 444 two-point makes give him 1896 career points. Let’s add the actual number of free throws he’s made in his career, which is 116. That totals him out at 2012 points.

That number, divided by his 136 games played, gives him 14.8 points per game (remember, there was no increase in free throws and no change to shooting percentages). 

13 shots a night for Luke might be too low anyway. I mean, Donovan Mitchell averages 18.5 shots per game on his career. Let’s dive into that. 

Don’t tell me you’re about to say Kennard is better than Donovan Mitchell!

I’m not. But it’s closer than you might think. 

On draft night in 2017, fans deliberated over the selection of Kennard. Many thought that Louisville guard Donovan Mitchell would’ve made more sense for Detroit. At the time, when both were unproven in the NBA, it was a fair argument to make. But after dramatically different rookie seasons, Pistons fans came back pissed off. The Pistons blew it again, one pick away from drafting a stud. At least, that’s what it looks like to the naked eye.

Throughout Stan Van Gundy’s 5 year tenure, no Pistons rookie (including Kennard) played more than 23 minutes per game. Kennard averaged 20 minutes a contest in his rookie campaign, the second-most in the SVG draft era to Stanley Johnson, who played out of desperation. Stanley took minutes away from Caron Butler and Kyle Singler. Nobody’s complaining about that. 

Donovan Mitchell averaged 33 minutes per game in both his rookie and sophomore NBA seasons. Of course, his numbers are going to be better than Kennard. He has more time in the game to rack up stats. In this year’s playoffs, Kennard showed what he could do with 33 minutes a game, posting stats that exceed any of his regular-season career averages. Mitchell was also drafted into a competent Jazz system, led by head coach Quin Snyder, who is most certainly better at getting the most out of his players than Stan Van Gundy. 

It is also worth mentioning that Mitchell is certainly a better athlete and defender than Kennard, and that can’t be undervalued. What do their stats look like if the Pistons took Mitchell and the Jazz got Kennard? We’ll never know, but the Jazz, an organization that prioritizes player development, most likely would have gotten more out of Kennard than we have. 

How does his future look?

Dwane Casey is the X-factor for Kennard’s success in Detroit. Under Casey, Kennard improved in nearly every single statistical category. We can only hope the trend continues. A player with the offensive capabilities of Kennard cannot be locked into a bench role for any longer, especially in the Pistons’ current situation. Bruce Brown, last season’s main starting two-guard, has little to no scoring capability other than as a cutter and straight-line driver. In a league when great offense often beats great defense, starting the defensive-minded Brown over someone as offensively talented as Kennard is a crucial mistake.

Starting Kennard is the first step. Running an offensive system to get Kennard the ball in situations to score and make decisions is the next.

Blake Griffin’s near 30% usage rate is dangerous to his physical health and the long term success of this team. Kennard is the perfect secondary creator next to Reggie Jackson or whatever point guard the Pistons roll with over the next few seasons. As successful as Kennard is as a spot-up shooter, his game will be completely unlocked with an offense that allows him to use ball screens more often. On games where teams are running him off the line, he is unselfish enough to make the right play and rack up assists. Running quick actions for Luke to put him in positions to shoot is vital to get more production out of him, whether it’s scoring or passing.

Pistons fans see Kennard’s potential, and that’s why they’re willing to include him in their mock trades for better players, most notably Bradley Beal. But instead of sacrificing Kennard and other future assets for Beal, why not just play Kennard 33+ minutes a game and get similar production? That’s a bit of a stretch, but the potential is there. 

In a crucial season for the Pistons, a team desperate to win playoff games and advance to the second round, they are going to need more production out of everyone. The Pistons added a real bench this off-season, more guys to take shots away from Luke Kennard. One measure of an efficient NBA offense is how well their players limit taking bad shots. For the Pistons, the only bad shots from Luke Kennard are the ones he doesn’t take.