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2017-18 Pistons review: Luke Kennard didn’t deserve the hate

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The rookie guard exceeded expectations - the reasonable ones, anyway

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

I want to show you something:

Devin Booker rookie year vs. Luke Kennard rookie year

That is Luke Kennard comparing favorably on offense on a per-possession basis with Devin Booker their rookie years - when Booker was named All-Rookie First Team, watering the dry Arizona desert with positive national attention for the first time since the Suns won 48 games and still missed the playoffs. Booker, of course, is also a Hindsight Piston First-Teamer, along with Khris Middleton, Donovan Mitchell, and Chris Bosh.

I show you this to say that it’s obvious that Luke Kennard is a quality basketball player, and due to his age and skillset, he has the potential to grow into more than that. Unfortunately, Kennard isn’t just a player to some fans - he’s a symbol, the scarlet letter displaying Stan Van Gundy’s front office shortsightedness and failure of imagination to the world. It is entirely possible that some will only view him through the prism of “What Could Have Been.”

We’re not going to do that, though. We’re going to talk about what was, and is, and is to come.

What Was

Before the draft, Luke was viewed as a play-finisher. Not necessarily a player you could rely on to create offense, but a player who could definitely contribute as part of a healthy offense thanks to his ability to shoot and keep the ball moving. Here’s how DraftExpress (Rest In Peace) described him:

A versatile shot maker who’s not afraid of the moment, Kennard is best suited in a system where he’s not going to be stuck in the corner waiting for catch and shoot opportunities, but rather running off screens (thanks to his ability to make catch and shoot jumpers, pull-ups, floaters and utilize his vision off of in-downs) and playing out of second side pick and roll, functioning more as a combo guard.

In college, he had the range and rhythm to take one-dribble threes off of picks or handoffs:

He also showed enough comfort to push the ball ahead himself and pull the trigger in transition:

Kennard was viewed as a solid - if unspectacular - choice for the Pistons, a player who could come in right away and help a team that was in the cellar as far as three-point shooting was concerned.

What Is

The Pistons got everything they asked for and more with Kennard. He had the best three-point percentage of any Piston rookie ever (EVER), and was in the 96th (!) percentile of spot-up scorers in the entire NBA:

Additionally, his court vision and sense of where the ball needed to be was as good as advertised:

He also was a FAR better team defender than anticipated:

Combine the two, and it’s easy to see why he was second on the team (behind all nine minutes of Willie Reed’s time as a Piston) in offensive rating, and led the Pistons in NetRating. That’s not to say he was perfect - those Synergy pick-and-roll ball handler numbers are not great, he was not (and probably never will be) an above-average on-ball defender, and he attempted more threes than shots in the paint, which didn’t help the Pistons with their still-glaring issue of shot creation.

What Is To Come

For Luke to take the next steps forward in his game, he’s going to have to break a core tenet of basketball: “Increased Usage = Lower Efficiency.”

Luke was efficient this year, with a 56 percent True Shooting percentage, and his Usage Rate was at 17.5 percent for the year - which is great! But he had a lower usage than Ish Smith (Usage Rate: 20.7. True Shooting percentage: 52.5 percent) and just eclipsed Stanley Johnson’s (Usage Rate: 16.4. True Shooting percentage: 48 percent). A guy as efficient as Luke was on a team as offensively deficient as the Pistons were needs more shots. The Pistons should be asking themselves how many shots it takes Luke to become inefficient, and then instructing him to take JUST under that amount of shots.

For his part, Luke needs to improve his ball-handling to the point where he feels more comfortable attacking the rim off the dribble against a set defense. If 50-year-old Manu Ginobilli can still slither to the rim for layups, Luke can do the same. He also can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Many times this year, Luke passed up good shots in search of a better one. He has to realize that at his efficiency, most shots are good shots, and he should take them! Instructing Luke to gun away at this year’s Summer League would be an excellent step towards that progression.

As the roster is currently constructed, there’s no reason Luke shouldn’t be starting next year, spacing the floor for Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond and keeping the Pistons’ offense flowing.