Hidden behind a lean, 6-foot-5 stature and an awkward yet friendly smile is, who I believe to be, one of the most skilled players in the NBA. His name? Luke Kennard.
While his game-winning 4-point play to set the seal on a historic 35-point comeback against the Washington Wizards might now be his defining moment to Clipper fans and NBA followers alike, he’s more than just a clutch shot. He’s a lights-out shooter. He’s a crafty playmaker. And he’s a cold-blooded bucket-getter. All in one.
The Luke Kennard show had its first airing when he passed now 18-time All-Star LeBron James on the all-time Ohio scoring list for high school basketball with a 44-point punch for Franklin High School.
Then, the same “puberty-stricken” high-schooler, the student who boasted a GPA higher than 4.0 and football sensation named the Ohio Division II offensive player of the year, decides to commit to one of the nation’s most prestigious basketball programs to be coached under the prudence of the world-renowned Coach K.
He didn’t have the most impressive of starts, though. At Duke, he started just 11 games and finished his freshman season with pretty average numbers: 11.8 points, 1.5 assists, and 3.6 rebounds. Thrown into action, Kennard played without much confidence and couldn’t fully display his greatest asset, his three-point shot: he shot just a relatively low 32 percent from long range.
But whether it’d be him molding into the Blue Devil frame or his many hours spent honing his jump shot and floaters, Kennard had quite the breakout season as a sophomore.
In his second season, he found his usage rate increasing from 21.3 to 24 percent. Not to mention, he started all but one game. Slowly but surely, he grew from a three-point specialist into a legitimate scoring option for the Blue Devils.
In a high-stakes nail-biter game against Wake Forest, it was Kennard — not a soon-to-be superstar Jayson Tatum — that Duke’s interim head coach Jeff Capel drew the play for — a Frank Jackson pass was to give a curling Kennard an open look for a game-winning triple.
Truth be told, a jumping Wake Forest defender did get to him for a good contest. Kennard drilled it in his face regardless.
Finishing his season averaging 19.5 points and shooting close to 44 percent from three, the 2016 ACC Tournament MVP made the no-brainer decision to declare for the 2017 NBA draft, where the Detroit Pistons scooped him up with the 12th pick.
In his first two seasons as a Piston, Kennard picked up where he left off (at Durham, that is): he shot an impressive 40 percent from behind the arc albeit averaging under double digits.
In his third, however, he turned things around and showed what he was capable of. From downtown, he continued to make it rain, capitalizing off 40 percent of those looks. Inside the paint, he adeptly finished with both hands or even dished out easier looks for his teammates. And he sunk nearly 90 percent at the line. His averages? 15.8 points, 4.1 assists, and 3.5 rebounds.
Fast forward to now, Kennard had himself an outfit change — now, he throws three-point bombs in a Clippers jersey — but is still as good, if not better, of a shooter he was in Detroit.
One thing is different, though.
He is not playing as much, and he doesn’t have the ball as much. When comparing his third season with Detroit and this season (granted, he played in just 28 games that season), his usage has dropped from 20 to 15.2 percent, minutes 33 to 28, and points 15.8 to 11.9. Simply put, he has a reduced role for the Clips.
And I think that needs to change.
Kennard — or I should say, Cool Hand Luke — is shooting a career-high 45.2 percent from deep and enjoys an impressive effective field goal percentage of 60 percent. Not to mention, his points PSA numbers — total points scored per 100 shots — stand at 126.2 (ranks in the 92nd percentile amongst wings) while his assist to usage ratio is at 0.78. To put that into words, he’s been balling out.
Now, with all due respect to Ty Lue and his coaching staff, it seems odd to me that Kennard has only started in 10 games for an injury-stricken Clippers team. He’s proven, once again, that he can create shots for himself and cash in on open looks from deep even in the most important of situations. And in the last three games, the Duke product is 16-of-21 from long range and helping the Clippers cruise through the final 20 games of the season. Play him more minutes, make him take more shots, draw up plays for him — whatever it may be, the Clippers will be a harder team to beat if they make the most of the 25-year-old’s talents.
Kennard is an offensive weapon. And Lue’s Clippers have the switch on their hands, should they want to unleash an offensive onslaught in the league.