The three Detroit Pistons players that will unexpectedly, but routinely, raise eyebrows around the league during the upcoming season are as follows: Blake Griffin, Glenn Robinson III, and Luke Kennard.
After a healthy offseason, Griffin, comically underrated on the national scene, is ready to bounce back and rejoin his rightful spot at the lunch table of elite NBA players.
Detroit nabbed Robinson in early July for a measly four million dollars per year. Before Halloween 2018 hits, GMs around the league will be kicking themselves after realizing a mistake was made when they overlooked, or outright dismissed, the springy and slick Robinson.
Luke Kennard’s off-the-bounce drives, marksman shooting, grown-up off-ball movement and on-ball playmaking will be snarkly disregarded at first, but, eventually, the six-foot-five lefty will evolve into one of the NBA’s darlings. The aw shucks public persona certainly helps in becoming a trendy favorite of the league.
Take all three of those Pistons prophecies to the bank, retire off the earned interest and thank me later. You might agree (happy face) or disagree (eye-roll), but if I had to wonder out loud, the Luke Kennard prediction would generate the least amount of pushback.
Kennard dipped his toes just enough into the NBA’s deep end during his rookie year to create a comfortability amongst a Pistons fan base who, initially, couldn’t get over the fact he wasn’t Donovan Mitchell. Now, in year two, perhaps no other returning player’s role will change as dramatically as Cool Hand Luke’s.
Steve Hinson’s Kool-Aid piece from late-August reads more like truth serum than wishful thinking but DBB contractual obligations required the “Kool-Aid” title. I’m simply here today to piggyback of the Kennard love.
How will the Pistons utilize his talent? Below, I’ll use my amerature mind-reading abilities to try and unlock Dwane Casey’s thought process and answer such a pertinent question.
In the three position (point guard, wing, big) NBA era we’re currently in, Kennard is naturally a wing who occasionally demonstrated the soft skills of a point guard under Stan Van Gundy. Kennard appeared in 68 games last year with eight spot starts and averaged 20 minutes per game (with much of that playing time coming after the All-Star Game). He slowly earned SVG’s trust which culminated in 14 points per game during six April contests. Take it for what it’s worth at that point of the season.
Under Casey, Kennard should enjoy a sizable leap in most counting stats. If he can keep up the 40+ three-point shooting percentage - considering an assumed increased volume - then the Pistons might have something special on their hands.
A viable case could be made for Kennard in the Pistons’ starting lineup but, with this roster as currently constructed, he’s better suited coming off the bench. Doing so will give him extended freedom to do what he does best: shoot the ball.
We know all too well about the dynamic shooting, though, how else can Casey get him going?
The long-ball will always be the meat and potatoes of Luke’s game, but if I’m Casey, a healthy dose of fresh vegetables (hold the tomatoes) would be a nightly delicacy. Vegetables, in this case, means taking the ball to the hoop as Kennard is too talented to be pigeonholed as Kyle Korver 2.0.
A paltry 16-percent of Luke Skywalker’s field goal attempts came at the rim last year. Yuck. We can do better and Casey’s drive-and-kick, ball movement priority is just what the good doctor ordered. Whipping the ball around from side-to-side demands the defense to rotate and recover at an alarming high rate. Continuing to whisk the ball from side-to-side suggests those rotations and recoveries will, eventually, become sloppy.
Want to see an uptick in shots at the rim? Attack poor closeouts.
In a league of otherworldly athleticism, Luke Cage’s explosion and bounce are relatively pedestrian. Careless or clumsy rotations and recoveries, however, even the athletic playing field. Catch-and-attack should be emphasized as much as catch-and-shoot:
Off-ball Kennard indicates he’ll be starting a majority of possessions in the corner or slot but that doesn’t mean he should stay there. Not including designed movement, baseline cuts will be open in Casey’s corner-friendly offense and it’s up to Kennard to take advantage:
Same goes from the slot:
With any luck, iso-Blake won’t be the default offense this year but the mere fact, on this possession, Luke Perry said to himself “Holy shit, my guy is cheating. Maybe I should cut to the hoop” as a rookie, is a positive thing. Inevitably, Kennard is going to find himself in the slot this year as the offense breaks down and it’s imperative he keeps moving along.
As defenses continue to switch everything (a trend that will soon fall out of favor but that’s a different discussion), slipping the switch becomes invaluable:
If you were kind enough to read anything I wrote last year (thanks!), the lack of smart slips - especially from the wings - was a reoccurring bullet point and cost me countless hours of sleep.
Those are a few illustrations of mature cuts outside the realm of a set offense. Recognize and react, moving with a purpose instead of going through the motions. In a ball-movement centric offense, leaving points on the board by not properly reading the surroundings is a slow and painful death sentence. Luke Kuechly might only be 22 years old but he embodies grown folk BBIQ. It wouldn’t shock me if he spent Saturday nights by the fireplace with a neat scotch and a good read.
It’s a punishable-by-benching crime that Kennard finished only 57-percent of his field goal attempts at the rim. Throwing my speculation hat on, I’d argue a sizable chunk of those misses were directly related to the learning curve that goes with competing against NBA length which hits rookies in the face like a stiff Lennox Lewis jab. I fully expect the low conversion rate to rise high above the Mendoza Line during 2018-19 for two distinct reasons: he’s hoop smart and his MFing off-hand.
Everyone has their own eccentric reasons why they enjoy watching a particular player or team. Me? I’m a bona fide sucker for high-level off-handness and few, despite being just an incoming sophomore, do it better in the NBA than our very own Luke Kennard:
You should probably check your pulse if that doesn’t get you a little hot and bothered. There are players who rock 10+ year careers and couldn’t produce five examples of finishing with their off-hand. It’s a significant advantage and reeks of long hours in the gym during the offseason.
Summer League 2018 was suppose to grant us a glimpse of point guard Kennard but a non-serious yet annoying knee injury prevented the sneak-peek. The concept of Luke Wilson as a point guard gained steam towards the end of last year and it’s an idea I fully endorse.
One of the best indicators of half-court ball-handling success is how well the player does in transition, or at the very least, when the defense isn’t set. If a player makes bad decisions when the offense has a clear advantage, they have no chance in the half-court.
As discussed here, Casey’s transition offense is predicated on filling spots on the floor as quickly as possible. Recycling the low-budget graphic from the link in the previous sentence, you can see the exact spots on the floor that need ASAP occupation:
It’s not a rocket science concept as many teams use similar general instructions but Kennard’s versatility grants him extra bonus points as he can fill either corner, slot AND push the ball with efficiency.
Last year, while leading the fast or secondary break, Kennard was never in a rush. Instead, he patiently waited - a trait proving to be incredibly difficult for youngsters - for the play to develop allowing his teammates to fill their lanes or spot-up:
A savvy understanding of game flow, and the subsequent diagnoses of who is open (or will be), made life easy for teammates:
Extra passes and a just right pace won’t translate into highlight reels but they help in spawning wins. We like wins. Possessions in which Kennard is making decisions with the ball in his hands is a net positive and I’d like to sign up for more.
In addition to hoisting threes, Luke Kennard needs to attack shitty closeouts and get to the cup. His knack for finishing with his off-hand is an underrated plus. Moving without the ball is just as important as moving with the ball. He has all the tools to flourish in an upbeat pace.
Move over Joe Ingles, the league’s new favorite southpaw resides in Detroit.
WHITE BOY LUKE.