Welcome to our annual Clippers season in review series. Every day until the end of July, we’ll be taking a look back at the players who ended the season with the Clippers (apologies to Malik Fitts and Mfiondu Kabengele). Today, we continue with Luke Kennard.
Name: Luke Kennard
Years in the NBA: 4
Key stats: Kennard played in 63 out of 72 regular-season games, starting 17. He averaged 8.3 points and 1.7 assists in 19.6 minutes per contest. In the playoffs, Kennard didn’t play in the first five games other than garbage time. Over the final 14 postseason games, he averaged 6.0 points and 0.4 assists in 15.4 minutes per night.
Future contract status: Kennard signed a four-year rookie extension worth $64 million last offseason before even playing a game for the Clippers. That contract, which has a team option in year four, starts in 2021-22.
The Clippers brought in Luke Kennard as part of a three-team deal that sent out Landry Shamet and Rodney McGruder and netted four second-round picks in Kennard. Assuming reasonable health for Kennard, it was a good piece of business considering McGruder’s contract was basically dead salary and they got the additional draft assets.
Kennard’s production was hit or miss throughout the season. He had grown used to having the ball in his hands for extended stretches of time during his years in Detroit, and it was an adjustment for him to make quicker decisions in the Clippers offense.
Ty Lue had Kennard regularly in the second unit for the first seven weeks of the season, using him as a spot starter when one of Paul George or Kawhi Leonard missed a game. Kennard missed one game due to knee soreness against Utah on February 17, and then essentially fell out of the rotation until the All-Star Break. His minutes varied over the second half of the season, especially after the arrival of Rajon Rondo.
No matter the situation, Kennard stayed ready, and that showed when he managed to be productive in the playoffs against Dallas after sitting essentially the first five games. Ideally, his role will expand beyond that in 2021-22.
Kennard was a wonderful shooter, making 44.6 percent of his threes during the regular season and 41.2 during the playoffs. The Clippers scored 1.43 points per possession on Kennard catch-and-shoots counting regular season and playoff games, per InStat. L.A. also scored 1.22 points per possession when Kennard came off a screen. He has tremendous scoring gravity, and the Clippers shoot better from every area on the court when Kennard plays.
The Clippers can also put the ball in Kennard’s hands and let him run pick-and-roll as a secondary creator. He was an above average facilitator out of pick-and-roll and is a decent screener, which allows him to invert the play and pop out for jumpers.
It’s always fun when Kennard breaks out for his big games, like he did against Atlanta during the 22-point comeback or against Memphis and Milwaukee in other shorthanded wins during the regular season. When Kennard gets going, it seems like every shot he takes is going to go in because of how smooth his jumper is.
The Clippers constantly talked about Kennard being more decisive. For a player with as much offensive skill as Kennard, his usage rage of 15.7 rate was surprisingly low. That meant he finished less than 1/6 of the team’s possessions with a shot, assist, or turnover. That tracks with the eye test of watching Kennard during the regular season, when he would pass out what appeared to be advantageous situations instead of attacking. Kennard has to take more control in the Clippers’ offense going forward if he wants to live up to his potential.
The main problem with Kennard, however, is his defense. It’s not for lack of effort — Kennard will get on the floor for loose balls and try to use his body to get in the way of opposing players. But he just doesn’t have the physical tools to hold up in isolation. It wasn’t just Donovan Mitchell who was hunting Kennard on switches in the playoffs, even players like Cam Johnson’s eyes lit up when they had the opportunity to go after Kennard in the half court. Kennard has to be far near perfect in his defensive execution (knowledge of scheme, keeping an eye on back cuts, etc.) to make up for those other shortcomings.
Future with the Clippers:
The Clippers invested in Kennard early, electing to eschew restricted free agency and commit to a future with Kennard. That means they want him around, and it’s easy to see Kennard having a more substantial role during the regular season as the rest of the Clippers rotation guards age on the wrong side of 30.
It also wouldn’t be unreasonable for the Clippers to package Kennard as part of matching salary to get a bigger star, should one become available. But the team doesn’t really have more assets to throw into that kind of trade, so Kennard should be around in Los Angeles for the near future.