Man, it felt so good seeing Luke Kennard lighting up the three-point contest in his home state. That Los Angeles sun has given the Clippers’ sharpshooter a strong glow, and he seemed to be positively shining under the spotlight in Cleveland on NBA All-Star Saturday — a smile etched across his face the whole time. On top of that, he made Clipper Nation proud, shooting the highest overall score despite falling short to Karl Anthony-Towns in the final round of the competition.
This is a Los Angeles Clippers team with a whole host of guys who are making the conscious choice to do their bit for the community, and giving love back to those that showed them love along their own journeys. With that being said, the development of Kennard on and off the court has become one of the stories of the season. Just a few weeks back, Franklin High School retired his jersey and he attended the ceremony in person, dapping up the team during the pregame introductions and staying to support them for the duration of the game that followed. When you think of white shooting guards out of Duke University, images of controversial figures such as JJ Redick (at least in his college days) and Grayson Allen (to this day) come to mind, but likeable Luke shows that there is another way.
That likeability appears to have made Kennard popular among his teammates too, as they were all showing their support for him on his return to Ohio this past weekend. From Isaiah Hartenstein holding up signs emblazoned with the phrase “Good luck Luke” after he dropped 25 on eight made threes against the Rockets, to Paul George watching the three-point contest on his phone from a restaurant, the brotherhood were right behind their guy. The bond between players and coaches has gone from strength to strength under the stewardship of head coach Tyronn Lue, and it shows up most when more unassuming members of the team start to rise to the fore in the way the 12th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft has done this past few weeks.
There was never any doubt that Kennard had the oncourt ability to make himself heard the way he has through the Clippers’ latest stretch of games. He’s always had the ability to catch fire quickly and the scoring touch to supplement the squad’s defensive capabilities and get them back towards being a winning team. When he looks back on his season the standout moment will likely be his four-point play to win that historic comeback game against Washington, and it was a move that embodied the best of what the 25-year-old offers to this team. In fact, when this franchise has needed him most he has stepped up in the absence of key players — whether through bad luck with injuries as has all too often been the case this campaign, or when even the stars have been benched as in the 22-point comeback against Atlanta 11 months ago.
One of the best things you can say about this current group of guys is how much fun they’ve brought to our basketball-watching experiences as fans, but also how much fun they make it look to be a part of as a player. Few players on the Clippers seem to wear that as much as Kennard does, and when others are labouring he has been such a source of energy. The team finds itself at a point where chemistry seems to be at an all-time high, and us supporters can rightly get excited about what it all looks like when Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are cleared to return to action. The biggest compliment you can pay to Luke and company is that they can occasionally make you forget that we have so much talent sitting waiting in the wings, such are the qualities they can bring night in and night out.
Mostly, though, we want to have a team we can be proud to follow. That’s as much about how they carry themselves off the court as what they can do on it, and Kennard continues to set an example in terms of his attitude and approach. If this trajectory continues and ‘Cool Hand Luke’ keeps shooting the lights out and smiling all the while, that big contract extension may just look like another masterstroke of a decision by the Clippers’ front office.