Detroit Pistons: How Luke Kennard Can Improve Next Season

A talented shooting guard fell into the Pistons’ lap at pick 12 in the 2018 draft. Yes, Donovan Mitchell was there. But Stan Van Gundy had other ideas. He decided Kennard was the prospect that would inevitably dominate the rookie circuit.

Instead, Mitchell took droves of role players—penciled in as a lottery team after the Hayward departure—and Rudy Gobert to the second round. Meanwhile, Kennard shot threes as a role player for Detroit—nothing less, nothing more.

Kennard was pigeonholed into a role. Given more minutes, Kennard has the potential to outpace role player status. With that, he can escape the grapples of trendy comparisons to a fellow draftee.

And with a more prominent role, Kennard can morph sample-size efficiency into big-time impact. After all, the Pistons are an organization devoid of crater impacts and starving for a secondary option. Other Pistons seem less destined to do so.

To dig deeper, Stanley Johnson is ⅓ Ron Artest and ⅛ Kawhi Leonard—two common draft comparisons. To boot, Henry Ellenson was awful in Summer League. Calling Reggie Jackson an injured trainwreck is not so much an angry opinion, but a fair inference. And Blake Griffin—who the Pistons traded a high draft pick (12th)  and a solid defensive role player (Avery Bradley)—would rather shoot contested 3’s than dunk now, apparently.

Inflicted by grisly lacerations—most notably, the Josh Smith signing—Detroit hierarchy slapped a bandaid on a bleeding problem: overpayment and oversaturation of inside forces. A myriad of high-usage power forwards: Greg Monroe, Josh Smith, and now Blake Griffin, represent the screeching interlude Van Gundy blared over the loudspeakers.

Now, Casey hopes to run a tight ship—one most similar to his Toronto rendition. With Andre Drummond, Stanley Johnson, Kennard, and Jackson, his new team is decidedly less talented. But if he can rightfully utilize a unique blend of shooters around his star big man, he might just crack the code.

The Pistons trailed only the Warriors in three-point percentage but their three-point attempts—which were in the bottom half—showed a dearth of high usage players with deadeye range. Their core group; Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson, Blake Griffin, Stanley Johnson, all shot below the league average 36% and are popularized by alternate basketball traits (namely height and athleticism).

Stylistically, Kennard’s lefty game is fused with the left-handed flair of Manu Ginobili. Already equipped with role players who filled the catch and shoot capacity, the Pistons are desperate for shot-creators. Kennard formulates grains of off the dribble ability.

Playtype Possessions Frequency PPP EFG Percentile
Isolation 0.1 1.4% 0.88 50% 0.0
Transition 1.0 12.4% 1.07 55.7% 47.1
Pick and Roll 1.2 15.4% 0.77 43.5% 41.1
Cuts 0.4 4.6% 1.23 57.1% 43.3
Off-Screen 1.0 13.5% 0.91 50.8% 38.6
Handoff 2.0 25.7% 0.8 44.4% 33.3

He’s not the shot creator Mitchell is, nor will he ever be, but with more opportunity he can come close.

More often than not, Detroit’s exploitation of Kennard was in handoff situations. For players that played in 50 or more games, with a 20% or higher frequency, Kennard ranked fifth in handoff points per possession. Still, he shot just 38.5%. That figure represents a stale Van-Gundyan functioned offense.

In Dwane Casey’s offense, Kennard could play the role of DeRozan. He’s not nearly as talented but is more versatile in some areas. For one, he is a better shooter. Shooting 41.5% on 2.7 attempts, he can spray from all over the arc.

On the break, Detroit’s first option was to look inside (this time it was Reggie Bullock; usually it’s a diving Andre Drummond). The alternative option was a handoff to a 3-pointer (usually to Kennard, sometimes to Bullock). They found Kennard here, and he made the Raptors pay for scurrying back to the paint. Kennard, trailing the pack, sprinted faintly behind Ish Smith and calmly stepped into a left-right shot.

A Jackson-Kennard-Robinson III-Johnson-Drummond quintet features a team that can run in transition. And most notably allows Kennard to utilize a well-versed skill: handoffs in transition. Drummond is capable of defending the rim when a defender blows by Kennard. Also, he can act as a safety valve on alley-oop plays. With improved dribbling ability, the big man can screen for and hand-off to Kennard. Thus, staggering Griffin and Drummond in lineups including Kennard is paramount for his future.

Choosing Kennard over Mitchell was a downer for Detroit fans, but the former is just another miss-step by a ridden Detroit franchise. Kennard is the last hope for a flailing Pistons organization—who need youthful energy to steer clear of Eastern turmoil.

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