During the Clippers’ win over the Knicks Sunday, there was a key sequence in the third quarter when Reggie Jackson hit two 3-pointers late in the shot clock to stretch LA’s lead from two to eight. What was interesting about both of Jackson’s threes was that the passes were essentially grenades: Jackson received the ball with so little time left on the shot clock that he had to shoot, or else he’d probably commit a violation.
It comes as little surprise to learn that the assist man on both those jumpers was Luke Kennard, the man the Clippers players and coaching staff have to keep reminding to shoot. Andrew Greif of the Los Angeles Times noted that trend in his preview for the New York game, and the first-year Clipper’s aversion to shooting once again presented itself in that contest.
While those possessions resulted in positive outcomes for the Clippers — though Kennard truly put Jackson in a bind on the first shot — that isn’t the case every time Kennard elects to pass instead of shoot.
During his first shift in Sunday’s game, Kennard was coming around a screen from Ivica Zubac and instead of using the space afforded by that pick to take a pull-up jumper or make a move into the lane, he backed up and threw a pass to Kawhi Leonard on the perimeter. Kennard’s fellow Blue Devil R.J. Barrett intercepted the attempt and took the ball the length of the floor for a dunk.
That turnover was the only stat that Kennard recorded during the entire quarter. No shot attempts, no assists, not even a personal foul. He was so passive that head coach Ty Lue didn’t go back to Kennard in the second quarter as he traditionally does, instead waiting until after halftime to give Kennard his next shift. During postgame media, Lue made it clear that he wasn’t pull Kennard because of the turnover, but the decision-making process.
“No, it wasn’t a turnover, I don’t coach like that,” Lue said. “My thing is, he turned down the first shot. I thought he was open, he turned it down, which led to the turnover. I want him to be aggressive taking his shots, you know, looking for his shots because he’s a great shooter. And coming out in the third quarter, you know, he played better. So we just need him to be aggressive, be who he is: making plays, attacking the basket, but for sure taking his open shots. He’s been passing up a lot, so we just gotta make sure we stay on him about taking his shots.”
The rest of the Clippers seem to relish in the open looks they get by playing next to two superstars. Marcus Morris Sr., Patrick Patterson, Nic Batum, and Reggie Jackson can’t stop talking about how easy their job is to take those great shots. Kennard is just as good of a shooter as those other role players; his 44.2 percent mark from 3-point range this season is within of Paul George, who leads the team at 45.4 percent. The team would be delighted if Kennard let fire with the same fearlessness as the others.
Kennard’s overall usage is down with the Clippers, too, which includes his assists. It’s one thing to give up the ball because someone else is in position to score, but Kennard isn’t always creating an advantage with his passes, as his assist percentage (10.4) is the lowest of his career.
It’s early in the season, and Kennard isn’t a veteran like those names mentioned before. He’s still figuring out who he is as a player, and then how he fits next to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. What’s impressive is that he isn’t holding the Clippers back, even as he experiences some growing pains. The team’s historically-great offense could be even more potent once Kennard finally settles in.
More news for Monday:
- Zach Lowe’s weekly 10 things include some thoughts on the Clippers’ pace.
- Shane Young dives into Kawhi Leonard’s playmaking, which is at its very best during what has already been a Hall of Fame career.
- The NBA rookie transition program is always evolving, and the pandemic didn’t put a stop to that.
- The Wall Street Journal has a lovely story on Vassilis Spanoulis, every European player’s favorite player.
- ESPN made some early-season award picks.
- If the Clippers want to make trades to upgrade their roster, here are some players who should be available.
- The health and safety protocols have dramatically changed how players interact on the road; the new normal is almost heartbreaking.