We are two games into this young season for the Detroit Pistons, and they have struggled their way to a 2-0 start. However, one question that has come to the surface early is, “What is going on with Luke Kennard?”
The Pistons second-year guard has only played 19 minutes this season, and all of those minutes came in the first game, where Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson did not play. Much like with Stan Van Gundy last season, Kennard has found himself in Dwane Casey’s early-season doghouse.
There are a number of potential reasons why Luke Kennard hasn’t played much through two games. Let’s run through them:
He might be hurt
This is probably the most likely reason for his lack of playing time, but it is a bit confusing. It was reported prior to Summer League that Luke Kennard was shut down due to a knee injury he suffered during the first week of practice. It was not reported how severe the injury was, but it occurred back in July, and it is now October.
If the injury was so bad Luke hasn’t recovered after four months, did he potentially need surgery? If the injury was bad enough that he potentially needed surgery, why wasn’t the surgery done during the offseason? Obviously I am not a doctor and cannot even begin to speculate on the answers to these questions. However, the early reports indicated this wasn’t anything to worry about and shutting him down was just a precautionary thing because Summer League doesn’t really matter, especially for a player who showed he is more than capable of playing in the NBA.
Kennard is supposedly still working himself back into basketball shape from the injury, but again, the injury occurred back in July and was supposed to be not severe.
Now, though, we’re getting observations like this from Rod Beard of the Detroit News:
Not sure. He has a heat pack on his right knee and a heating contraption his left on the bench, though. https://t.co/Ogce8d2jzw— Rod Beard (@detnewsRodBeard) October 21, 2018
Was / is Luke Kennard more injured than we were led on to believe? If that is the case, it is yet another example of a Pistons player getting injured and the franchise handling it poorly, like they have with Reggie Jackson in the past.
He isn’t very good defensively
Despite wanting to push the pace and shoot a lot of threes, Dwane Casey has always been a defensive-minded coach. He wants players that will play defense, which is why he loves players like Stanley Johnson and Bruce Brown enough to put them in the starting lineup.
However, this becomes a suspect reason why Luke Kennard is not playing when you look at the performance of the Pistons defense thus far this season. Detroit has allowed 108 points per game on defense, which is surprisingly 10th in the league, but they are allowing 62 points per game in the paint, which is 28th in the league. Yes, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond doing a poor job protecting the rim is part of that, but another huge factor has been the Pistons sieve-like defense by their guards.
Detroit’s guards have done a terrible job stopping penetration from opposing guards and it is causing breakdowns across the Pistons’ defense. Dwane Casey is playing Ish Smith and Reggie Jackson together a lot - neither player is known for their defense. He’s also playing Langston Galloway a lot in three-guard lineups and as their backup guard, and Langston also has not been good defensively.
We all know that Luke Kennard is the most efficient shooter on this roster outside of Reggie Bullock, so it’s not like any of those players are a significant upgrade over Kennard on that end of the court. The fact that the Pistons guards have not been good defensively pokes a hole into the argument that Kennard’s lack of playing time is related to defensive issues.
He could be in the doghouse
The fact that Kennard only played 19 minutes in a game that he started on opening night when Stanley Johnson and Reggie Bullock were both out makes this another likely scenario.
It also adds to it when Dwane Casey is saying things like this:
Dwane Casey on Luke Kennard’s absence: “We can’t play 15 guys. ... His time will come.”— James Edwards III (@JLEdwardsIII) October 21, 2018
Things were supposed to be different under Dwane Casey, who did a great job developing young players in Toronto by trusting them to play. He spent so much time talking about the Pistons’ young players and how important they were to the future of the franchise during his introductory press conference.
Luke Kennard proved that he could play last year, and looked in line for a significant role after the strong close he had to last season. It is frustrating that he has only seen 19 minutes of playing time, and Casey isn’t practicing what he preached.
This could just be reactionary to a coach trying out different things as he learns a new roster through the first two games of the season. Maybe Luke Kennard actually is hurt. There are a number of factors that could be going on, but the curious case of Luke Kennard’s playing time early on this season has been a bit eye-opening.