Two weeks ago, Luke Kennard was on a lottery-bound team, unsure of what the future held on a franchise with new management.
Now he’s moved across the country and is settling in for his first season on a championship contender. Despite the dramatic change in circumstances, Kennard feels comfortable and ready to contribute. The Clippers reached out to him shortly after the trade processed to make him feel right at home.
“I felt welcome right away. That night I had guys calling me, PG texted me, so just everybody was being really welcoming and excited about, you know, the new addition so I’m excited to be here,” Kennard said at his media day availability Tuesday. “I can tell you that I’m ready to start playing. It’s been a while, so I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to being a part of this organization, a winning organization, great players, great coaches, great staff, so it’s going to be an exciting opportunity for me, and I’m excited to do what I can to help bring more wins and hopefully a championship here.”
The first step in that process is making sure that Kennard is healthy to play. His last game was on Dec. 21, 2019, but because the Pistons didn’t go to the bubble, Kennard has had a lot of time to get his body right. He said he was 100 percent healthy and more confident in his movement than ever before, which is the type of thing players say often on media day, but there’s also no reason for Kennard to set unrealistic expectations. People aren’t always completely ready to go at the start of the season — just look at Kawhi Leonard and Paul George last year. If Kennard is saying that his knees aren’t an issue, then he would know best.
Assuming his injury issues are behind him, the on-court fit of Kennard with the two Clippers stars makes a lot of sense. He thinks of himself as a confident shooter and scorer and projects to see a lot openings playing next to Leonard and George. The Clippers want him to be decisive when he gets the ball, and that fits right into how Kennard wants to play.
“To be able to space the floor, I gotta be ready to shoot because (Kawhi and PG) are playmakers, they can pass the ball. They know how to handle different types of defensive scenarios and situations, so I got to be ready at all times when I’m in the game with those guys and be ready to shoot and knock open shots,” Kennard said.
Shooting is arguably Kennard’s best skill. He has shot 40.2 on 3-pointers in his NBA career, including 42.9 percent on catch-and-shoot threes, and is almost equally proficient from every spot behind the arc. He’ll be a deadly standstill option and also coming off screens, something Kennard says he has already started working on with the Clippers staff. He has only taken 106 jumpers coming off screens in his three seasons, which account for about eight percent of all of his shots, but ball screens were a point of emphasis in his first training camp workout.
One other facet of his game that Kennard wants to work on is his finishing around the rim. In order to be a well-rounded scorer, he has to be able to convert in the paint, and Kennard has personally targeted that area for improvement. The Clippers wanted to make player development a priority with their new coaching staff — a failure to help young players grow was one of the reasons Doc Rivers is no longer the head coach — so it is reassuring to hear that Kennard is being encouraged to expand his skill set.
The expectations have certainly changed for Kennard coming from Detroit to Los Angeles, but he seemed completely at ease in his new surroundings. He’ll be able to operate as a playmaker and scorer, and the coaching staff will give him the freedom to grow his game within the offense. He’s already made a strong impression on one of his teammates, Ivica Zubac, who had glowing remarks about Kennard despite not knowing much about him before training camp.
“I see a great dude that’s gonna fit our team perfect,” Zubac said. “He can shoot it, he can handle the ball, he can run pick-and-roll action. High IQ basketball player, I think he was a great addition for us. You know we needed ball handlers and I think he is really going to be great for us.”
It’s been a long wait for Kennard to get back on the court, and he’s eager to show what the Clippers saw in him when they made the trade. His time is coming soon.