After being a dark horse pick to break out this past season, Luke Kennard appeared to be doing just that before knee issues shut him down after just 28 games. After a promising sophomore campaign, many were clamoring for Kennard to receive a larger role in the Pistons offense going into his third season. Coach Dwane Casey made it clear he agreed, pushing Kennard’s minutes from 22 per game in 2018, to just under 33 during the 2019 season. The former Blue Devil flourished in his expanded role, as he saw a significant increase in points, assists, and free throw attempts per game as well as a notable increase in shot volume.
Kennard got off to a hot start in 2019, coming off the bench to score a career-high 30 points to propel Detroit past the Pacers in their first game of the season. In 28 minutes on the floor, Kennard went 8-13, including a blistering 6-9 from behind the line. His increased aggression and willingness to get up shots carried throughout the season, as Kennard increased his field goal attempts per game from 8.3 to 12.2.
As shown in the video, Kennard showed confidence and desire for the ball that never waned as the season progressed. “Cool Hand Luke”, benefitted greatly from Detroit’s increased usage of the Spain Pick and Roll, finding himself open at the top of the key for triples throughout the year. Kennard also improved as a facilitator, often bringing the ball up the floor and running the Piston offense. With a hobbled Blake Griffin missing significant time, Kennard continued to get more opportunities to make plays and grow as a leader in Detroit.
However, as the season progressed, the increased workload began to wear on Kennard. After playing in Detroit’s first 21 games of the season, Kennard sat out a matchup with the Bucks with knee issues. Following that contest, Kennard played seven of the next eight games for Detroit before being sidelined with bilateral knee tendinitis.
Kennard would not see the floor again for the remainder of Detroit’s shortened season. In a recent interview with Keith Langlois of Pistons.com, Kennard lamented the lost season, saying that he was scheduled to return March 14th against the Toronto Raptors. Detroit’s season ended prematurely on March 11, following a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
“I was pretty much ready to go. I was already in practices and drills, going full go in practices, so I was ready to go,” Kennard said. “I was probably going to be on a minutes restriction, but that next game was going to be the time I was coming back to play.”
Kennard had been dealing with random bouts of excruciating pain in both knees during games, which led to his eventual shutdown. After increased time with the Pistons training staff and a focused rehab, Kennard had felt ready to go again going through multiple practices with no pain. However, it was not meant to be as the league went into a lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Looking ahead to next season, Kennard has voiced his desire to grow as a leader in Detroit and be a part of what new general manager Troy Weaver is looking to build. The increased time off may be a blessing in disguise for Kennard, as he gets additional time to heal and prepare for what could be a very intriguing year of hoops in the Motor City. Had it not been for untimely injuries and a global pandemic, Kennard could have been on the fringes of the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award. Going into the 2020-21 season, optimism should be high around Kennard, as he looks to cement himself in Detroit’s long term plans.