The Clippers made a big splash during the NBA Draft, upgrading their playmaking in the backcourt by trading Landry Shamet and Rodney McGruder for Luke Kennard and four second-round picks. Kennard will step in as the lead guard in the second unit, allowing Lou Williams to move off the ball. Assuming Ty Lue staggers his stars more often that Doc Rivers did, Kennard will also have plenty of opportunities to play next to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George as well.
That’s an important role for Kennard on a championship team, so we reached out to Sean Corp, managing editor of Detroit Bad Boys (our SB Nation Pistons blog), to get a feel for what Kennard excels at and how he can help this Clippers squad. Here’s what Sean had to say.
What makes Kennard effective on offense?
Luke has not only been a reliable, high-volume 3-point shooter since the moment he entered the NBA, he also has a deceptively good game as a secondary ball-handler and decision-maker. He averaged four assists per game last season, and I don’t think that’s a fluke. He has good enough handles and can snake his way around defenders while still having the vision and ability to find open players or cutters. But his bread and butter will be his shooting. He not only hit 43% on his catch-and-shoot threes, he also hit 37% of his pull-up threes. He has enough skill in his game where he can make the offense more fluid and is not simply a stand in the corner catch-and-shoot threat.
How does Kennard play off of other ball-dominant players? Do you think he fits next to a score-first guard like Lou Williams?
I would say he excels at being a secondary ball-handler and playmaker. He doesn’t have the physical or athletic gifts to run the offense through him, but he’s both smart and capable so he plays extremely well as an off guard. He was able to effectively build playmaking chemistry with a forward like Blake Griffin and a point guard like Derrick Rose. He could see how plays were developing and either find a hole in the defensive coverage or realize that he needed to cut to open up a passing lane or draw the defense to open things up for someone else. He’s a great safety valve and third option.
Is his defense salvageable? Will he be hunted or can he stay on the floor in closing lineups?
I don’t think Kennard will ever be a good defender, but he was certainly done zero favors with the personnel he played alongside in Detroit. Kennard was part of many a three-guard lineup with noted defensive stalwarts like .... Reggie Jackson, Derrick Rose and Ish Smith. Kennard is short, he’s not a great athlete, and he has a shorter wingspan than his height. The debate among Pistons fans about committing to Kennard or trading him relied on where you fell in two factors: his defense and his injury history. The pessimist’s view was that defensive limitations meant he was destined to be a great bench option but nothing more. The optimist’s view was that he was becoming such a good scorer that he’d still be a starter, but one you have to hide as best you can on defense. He’s never lazy, and he’s good enough at reading the floor. His defense is just limited, and it always will be.
How worried should we be about Kennard’s knees? The Pistons sending over four second-round picks seems like quite the red flag.
I have the same reading, even as I am holding out hope that his knees are healthy and not a long-term issue. He’s been mostly healthy in his first two years in the league. Then last year his body seemed to break down a bit, and he could never get beyond some recurrent knee issues. You’d assume that nobody knew his long-term health prognosis better than the Pistons, and the Pistons decided to move on. BUT! That doesn’t necessarily mean Kennard is destined to have knee issues his whole career. Troy Weaver traded pretty much everything that wasn’t nailed down in Detroit so Kennard might have simply gotten caught up in the house cleaning, and Weaver seemed eager to burn through picks and money to build the team in his image. There are no guarantees in life, so I’d say just manage his minutes and protect those knees.
What’s your favorite thing about Kennard’s game? (Or what’s something Clippers fans don’t know yet that they’ll love about him?)
I already mentioned his deceptively effective ball-handling skills above, so I’ll move on to a thing I love that I want to see more from him. My favorite Kennard moments are when he’s feeling himself and realizes how good of a scorer he really is. In some ways, he understands the game so well he will defer too much and be too unselfish. I love it when he just says screw it and lets the ball fly. Those are nights where you can see four threes go in during a quarter and the crowd perks up a bit. I always said that Kennard needed to have his talent in teammate Langston Galloway’s mindset. Galloway is a born bucket-getter, and if he touches the ball he’s trying to score. That’s what you want to see most from Kennard. Don’t just make the extra pass — throw it up and try and score 30. For a more national comparison, I wish he had the ego and confidence of Tyler Herro in Miami. There’s value in unabashed confidence, especially when you’re a reliable 3-point shooter. When you see him shoot it and mug for the camera, you know it’s going to be a special game for Luke.
Thanks to Sean for lending his time to share some thoughts on Kennard. It’s exciting for the Clippers to have a young perimeter player with his level of upside, and hopefully he doesn’t wait too long to go off for one of those scoring binges.