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The Case for Luke Kennard

Why the lefty shooter deserves more playing time in the 2021-22 NBA season.

2021 NBA Playoffs - LA Clippers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Jennifer Stewart/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome to our 2021-22 Clips Nation season preview series, where we’re digging into something that interests us about each player for this coming season. First up, should Luke Kennard be getting more run?

For a team like the Clippers, Luke Kennard seemed like a perfect fit when he was acquired. A talented young shooter, deadly as a catch-and-shoot option but also able to pull up off the dribble, Kennard could be a versatile component in any modern NBA offense. The Clippers front office seemed to agree last offseason when they traded for him and then extended him for another four years and $64 million (though the final year is a team option) before he even took the court in a Clippers jersey.

Best-case scenario, Kennard fits in perfectly and outplays his contract; worst-case scenario, his contract makes him a more viable component in future trade packages.

But after his first season with the Clippers, Kennard’s game logs indicate an inconsistent role with the team. He broke the 30-minute barrier a handful of times, but also earned a few DNPs and games where he only saw the court in garbage time. By and large, he saw himself fighting for a place at the end of Ty Lue’s rotation.

Despite a similar usage level while on the court compared to his Pistons days (usage rate of 16.6 compared to 19.3 in his last year in Detroit, per NBA.com), he saw the court a lot less, averaging only 19.6 minutes per game (down from 32.9 in that same Detroit season), and shot a lot less (6.6 FGA and 3.6 3PA last year compared to 12.2 FGA and 6.5 3PA the year before). It is worth noting that while his minutes average last season was the lowest since he entered the league, his field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage were his highest.

This offseason, however, we saw a thinning of a previously cluttered Clippers backcourt. This is now an environment that Kennard can truly thrive in. And when given the opportunity, Kennard has proven that his efficiency is scalable and that he’s ready for more minutes (e.g., the Atlanta Hawks game in March and his aforementioned 2019-20 season with the Pistons).

The rotation has yet to be set, and in true Lue fashion, I don’t anticipate it being truly solidified until mid-February at the earliest. But as the cards currently stand, Kennard figures to be the main bucket-getter on a second unit, flanked by players like Eric Bledsoe, Terance Mann, Nic Batum, Justise Winslow, and Serge Ibaka. This wealth of defenders could hide Kennard on defense, freeing him up to do his damage on the offensive end.

And he’s versatile: he’s able to be the primary playmaker and offensive engine for that unit but also has the ability to play off Bledsoe drives and Batum/Ibaka screens as an off-ball threat. He’s just as dangerous launching catch-and-shoot bombs from long distance as he is taking his man off the dribble for a pull-up jumper at the top of the key. Sure, it would be great if he could add a slashing element to his game, thereby allowing his role to develop even more into a Lou Will-esque go-to scoring spark. But even if he did not improve at all this off-season (a dubious prospect at that), Kennard is ready for a bigger role within the Clippers offense.

Who knows, he might even find himself in the starting lineup. And by playoff time, is it ludicrous to imagine a Luke Kennard takeover or two, à la Seth Curry’s performances against the Hawks in the second round of the playoffs? I mean, is it unrealistic to believe that we might have our own version of Seth Curry on our hands?

Their per-36 numbers are almost identical, shooting percentages and offensive ratings are strikingly comparable and perhaps most interestingly, their favorite spots and shot charts are also remarkably similar (Kennard’s vs. Curry’s). As an offensive archetype, this Seth Curry role could be a realistic target for Kennard to strive for: an uber-efficient, long-range sniper who can play off the gravity of star players as an off-ball threat but also create shots for himself and teammates as the primary option on the second unit.

Defense, however, has been the biggest concern with Kennard; last season he posted a below average defensive rating of 114.4 (for some context, Lou Will’s was 110.6 and Seth Curry’s was 106.5). The Clippers even wrote a $300,000 bonus into his contract extension if he can keep his defensive rating over a season to under 105. But he doesn’t have to be a defensive menace, he only has to be serviceable.

And Kennard has proven that he can be serviceable. His previous three seasons in the league resulted in an average defensive rating of 107.6, albeit his being on a much worse defensive team. And if you were to surround him with the aforementioned defensive weapons that the Clippers have (instead of the end of rotation guys that Kennard routinely saw garbage time minutes with last season), his rating and impact are sure to return to serviceable means.

He is still that same player that the Clippers traded for and extended. The primary challenge next season is finding ways to bump his minutes and usage closer to the 2019-20 Detroit Luke Kennard averages. And I, along with his teammates and other Clips Nation fans, still have complete faith in his abilities. Kennard is a beast, hiding in that slightly-balding, country music-loving, body of his. And if he’s ready, the stage seems to be set for him. Here’s hoping he can take advantage of this opportunity.