Zaza Pachulia is Arnold Schwarzenegger to Luke Kennard’s John Conner. His Goose to Kennard’s Maverick. Kevin Costner to Kennard’s Whitney Houston.
Zaza has made it his mission in life to get Luke Kennard open looks. In a sophomore season that has been mostly disappointing for Kennard, with criticisms about his tentativeness in pulling the trigger on his shot, Zaza has been a solution.
There’d been signs of some Zaza-Kennard chemistry for a while now, but it was on full display a week ago against the Kings.
With Andre Drummond out, Dwane Casey staggered the rotations so that for the majority of the game either Blake Griffin or the Zaza/Kennard duo were on the court at the same time. Blake and Kennard filled the scorer roles and they finished with 38 and 19 points respectively - they combined to outscore the rest of the team and no one else finished in double digits.
While he’s struggled to put together the same kind of performance since then (and made me wish I had the time to finish this post last week), still...it’s a thing.
Some of them were your basic pick and roll or dribble handoff situations:
But then others got to the level of World’s Best Wingman.
The Kennard-Zaza cuts are becoming a definite thing:
And Kennard gets his guy back too:
Yeah, it may just look like regular post dude/wing action, and to a large extent it is. But there’s something different about this. Through the course of the game, you can just see that Zaza knows where Kennard is and is figuring how he can help create separation for him and his defender.
There’s so much value in a guy like this, especially for a young scorer looking for his confidence like Kennard. A guy who doesn’t care about what the point total looks like in his own line for the box score, but is more concerned about what it looks like for the one who the team really needs to score effectively. It’s kind of the other direction of the old Will Bynum-Andre Drummond connection. It has the feel of when pitchers get a catcher that is assigned to them, like with Chris Sale and Tyler Flowers. (Sorry, I’m a White Sox fan)
With Saturday’s game against the Kings, it seems to be something that’s caught Casey’s attention. It’s kind of like the Reggie Bullock/Blake Griffin connection hands off to the Zaza/Luke show.
One thing worth noting, check out who Kennard is sharing the court with in those clips against the Kings.
In last week’s DBB podcast, Laz, Ben, and Justin talked about Kennard’s increased aggressiveness. Well, when you’re Luke Kennard playing next to Jose Calderon, Khyri Thomas, Stanley Johnson, and Zaza, you’re not left with a ton of options other than being aggressive. Maybe that was Casey’s idea on how to get him to be more assertive: playing him next to a quartet of lousy offensive players (ok, Thomas isn’t really a lousy offensive player, but he’s still a second round rookie).
While it seems like Casey has noticed the pair’s chemistry for a moment there against Sacramento, Casey could still stand to lean into it more. During the Kings’ game, Kennard shared the court with Zaza for 19 minutes and took 10 shots during that stretch. In the three games since then, they’ve been on the court at the same time for just 27 minutes. Luke’s played alongside Jon Leuer for a similar amount of time since then as Zaza. Against Dallas he was with Andre Drummond for as long as Zaza.
Last year, Stan Van Gundy noticed a nice two-man game between Blake Griffin and Reggie Bullock. And Casey seems to have recognized that as well. The Griffin-Bullock pairing is actually the third most popular two-man lineup on the team.
It’s easy to look at videos like this from Klay Thompson and wish that Kennard could fill the Klay or Bullock type of roll, as a guy who can just fire away from three.
Can't stop watching this Klay Thompson video pic.twitter.com/5iGZ9mH8Vj— SB Nation (@SBNation) January 9, 2019
But that’s not Kennard. He’s not a Bullock and he’s not a Klay. He’s at his best as a combo between a catch-and-shoot threat while also being an initiating threat on the wing. And the Pistons desperately need a player just like that. It’s up to Casey to put him in the spots where he can be that guy.
And Zaza will help him get there.