The Detroit Pistons finished a disappointing 38-44 last season. As the team looks to improve and regain a spot in the playoffs, Detroit Bad Boys is examining three things each player can do to improve their game and improve the chance the team wins. Whether you’re new to the game or a season Pistons watcher, these are important factors that anyone can appreciate and will help you understand and evaluate Detroit’s team as we get ready for the 2017-18 season.
Leading up to the 2017 NBA Draft, Pistons fans were largely split into two camps: Luke Kennard and Donovan Mitchell. Both were touted as the best available players around the No. 12 pick, and both had lots of upside and downside in their games. The Pistons ended up selecting Kennard, and in doing so addressed the important basketball need of consistently putting the orange ball through the metal cylinder from far away.
The jury is still out on Kennard, despite an encouraging showing at the Orlando Summer League. But there’s reason enough for fans to be optimistic heading into training camp. With newly acquired Avery Bradley and journeyman Langston Galloway ahead in the backcourts depth chart, the bar for success is manageable, as long as the Pistons rookie can accomplish these 3 key points.
Shoot the Mother F#@^!$ Lights Outs
It’s obvious but still needs to be addressed. He came out of Duke with one of the best jumpers in the 2017 draft class. Quality jumpers were also something the Pistons were sorely missing during their abysmal 2016-17 campaign.
Kennard left Duke after two years shooting 46 percent, and 38 percent from 3. Really good, but not eye popping until you notice that from year one to year two, Kennard improved his 3-point percentage from 32 percent to damn near 44 percent. Now that’s an encouraging trend.
The Pistons and Stan Van Gundy have made it no secret that they drafted Kennard for his shooting ability, so what’s reasonable to expect in year one? A good place to start is looking at another former Blue Devil sharpshooter, and how his jumper transitioned to the league.
J.J. Redick came out of Duke with a bonkers 3-point average of 42 percent his senior year. He was drafted 11th by Orlando and went on to put up the following stat line in his rookie year.
MP 14.8 / FGA 4.6 / FG% .410 / 3PA 2.3 / 3P% .388
This is a good bar to set for Kennard. As good a shooter as Redick was in college, his percentage dropped nearly 4 points transitioning to the NBA. I’m not sure if there is room for Kennard to get even 15 minutes per game (I’d guess he comes in around 10 or 12) but I think 38 percent from deep is the magical number to look for after his rookie year.
Avoid Being Exposed on Defense
We’re going to nickname this the “don’t be Kyle Singler” point. For all of his offensive positives, the knock on Kennard is his low ceiling on defense. At Duke, he had a tendency to get beat by quicker guards, then reaching and sometimes showed issues with closeouts (oh, God). Some of this is just the nature of Kennard’s lack of athletic ability, but some, if not most of these, are simply bad defensive habits that can be broken.
He has shown the ability to play solid defense, moving his feet and stopping creators when they switch onto him.
To his credit, Kennard knows this is his big weakness and will be the No. 1 reason Stan doesn’t give him minutes. Kennard spoke about his defensive play being a big focus of his heading into Summer League, and it left Stan somewhat impressed.
Look, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect Kennard becomes an All-Team defender, but the key will be to avoid sending guys to the line or giving up uncontested shots. As long as he shows urgency on closeouts and avoids silly fouls/sending guys to the line, I think SVG and co. will be plenty happy.
Shot Creation, for Himself and Others
We’re putting this one last for a reason because it should only be addressed if the first two are going well.
When Kennard wasn’t draining 3-pointers, he was using his IQ and craftiness to get into the lane for mid-range jumpers and layups. The tape looks like if someone gave your local YMCA pickup stud a Limitless pill. He won’t blow you away with athleticism, but it’s solid footwork, a sharp basketball IQ and plenty of behind the backs and spin moves. It’s clear that Kennard knows his spots on the floor, and know how to get to them.
This ability can open up opportunities for other players sharing the floor with him. Going back to his basketball IQ, Kennard has shown flashes of having great court vision, something that was hinted at with this dish at Summer League.
The real takeaway with this point is that Kennard has shown to have great instincts for the game, specifically the ability to make quick decisions. This will be huge for his success on the floor, especially if he sees time with the second unit and more specifically Ish Smith, who operates in a similar manner.
This is another need the Pistons are looking to address, as they finished 24th in assists last year. While having guys like Reggie Jackson and Tobias Harris that tend to be ball movement vacuums won’t help matters, supporting players like Ish, Galloway, and Kennard that keep the ball moving will be crucial to the Piston’s success.
Kennard has shown hints of NBA promise and could be a real asset to the Pistons no matter how this season shakes out. The only question now is will he have an opportunity to deliver?