I thought there were better picks the Pistons could have made in this year’s draft.
If they were looking for a role player, Justin Jackson - a guy with more length and roughly the same amount of shooting - would have been my pick. If the Pistons were trying to swing for the fences and get a future star, I would have looked at the explosive, position-less Donovan Mitchell, or prep-to-pro player Terrance Ferguson, who had one of the crazier pre-draft workout highlight videos you’ll ever see.
After Luke Kennard was drafted, I came around on him, as you do for the players your team drafts. Then, I started digging into his college stats, and asking myself what kind of player he could be in Detroit.
Below, we’ve got college numbers for two players, Player A (top) and Player B (bottom). Player A is Luke Kennard (easy enough guess, this IS his player preview, after all). Who’s the other guy?
We’ll get there, I promise. Let’s walk around a bit.
Originally, this preview was going to be about how Luke Kennard seems like a good player who won’t be ready his rookie season, about how if plays, one of the three “I’s” has gone wrong (injury, ineffectiveness, instability), about how bad rookies are defensively and how much that always matters to Stan Van Gundy. I was debating re-using my line from Henry Ellenson’s preview last year about learning the fastest route from Grand Rapids to Detroit.
Then, Kennard showed up to training camp unaware that he wasn’t supposed to be ready to go. Stan had (for him) a glowing review of his first couple days of training camp:
“Luke has a calm about him ... On a night that was chaotic and sloppy, Luke slows down, looks at what’s going on and makes good, solid decisions.”
-Stan Van Gundy
Then, he went out and played relatively well in the preseason (4-8 for 10 points against Charlotte, 4-10 for 11 points against Atlanta). He didn’t appear lost, as so many rookies do when they step onto an NBA court for the first time.
So now, I’m going to take a page out of his book and slow down. I’m going to talk about Luke like he has a chance to make the rotation. Like he won’t be in Grand Rapids all winter. Like he can be the guy fans, pundits, and even some members of the front office think we could have drafted a while ago.
Like he could be Player B - Devin Booker.
I’ve long maintained that Booker wouldn’t have nearly the NBA shine he has now if he had been drafted by Detroit. He would have been behind Jodie Meeks (for a time, anyway) and then, his lack of interest in the defensive end of the floor would have spelled doom for his playing time. There’s no way he would have scored 70 points in a game, or averaged 22 points a game for a season, or been top-15 in ESPN’s under-25 rankings.
He would have been in the role Kennard finds himself in now: Make open shots. Make the right pass at the right time. Defend purposefully, even if you don’t defend proficiently. How the Pistons handle Kennard will be an interesting look into how Door No. 2 would have gone in the 2015 Draft.
All that is to say, there’s no reason Luke Kennard can’t be the starting shooting guard for this team, in time. There’s no reason he can’t be an effective piece on an up-and-coming team. There’s no reason he can’t be on a top-25 under 25 list.
It’s just a matter of the coaching staff getting him there.
The easy way for Kennard to see time this year is if Reggie Jackson’s health is in question, and Langston Galloway is pushed into a full-time role as the backup point guard. Kennard appears to have already eclipsed Reggie Bullock in the rotation, and so he’d become the backup shooting guard.
There’s also the possibility the coaching staff tries to work him into some three-guard lineups as the nominal small forward. At 6’6, there’s a chance he can guard smaller, weaker small forwards. Even so, those lineups would need to cover him defensively - a lineup of Galloway, Avery Bradley, Kennard, Stanley Johnson, and a center, for example, could work.
From there, all Kennard would have to do is keep doing what he’s been doing in training camp and Summer League - not trying to do too much, keeping the offense moving, defending decently. We’ve covered a lot of what Luke has to offer on the offensive side of the court at DBB.
We’ve also covered what he has to do defensively, and a lot of that boils down to “not be horrendous.” His effort was good in Summer League and Stan Van Gundy has praised his effort on that end in training camp, but rookie guards are rarely a plus defensively, and rookie guards who don’t have the physical measurables to match up with their professional counterparts are even less so. Luke won’t earn his initial minutes on the defensive end, but that will determine how much he plays as the season goes along.
6 points, 1 rebound, 1.5 assists, and .6 steals per game, plays ~50 games and averages 8 minutes a game