LOS ANGELES — Like most teams around the NBA, the Los Angeles Clippers kicked off individual workouts inside their training facility on Tuesday morning. For new Clippers guard Luke Kennard, it was his first day in the facility he’ll hope to call home for a long time alongside stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
Kennard was traded to LA on NBA Draft night a few weeks ago in a deal that sent Landry Shamet to the Brooklyn Nets and Rodney McGruder to the Detroit Pistons. Shamet, who had played well in spurts during his Clippers’ tenure, was unable to build on his stellar rookie season as he dealt with injuries, inconsistencies, and the coronavirus.
The Clippers pulled the trigger on the deal to bring in Luke Kennard, a 24-year-old guard who played only 28 games during the 2019-20 regular season before suffering patellar tendinitis in both knees. The NBA came to a screeching halt on March 11 due to COVID-19, but Kennard was expected to return on March 14 had it gone on as planned.
“I think having this time to really work on my game is something that has allowed me to take my game to the next level,” Kennard said Tuesday in his first media availability as a member of the Clippers. “I’m the strongest I’ve ever been physically. I can confidently say that, and I think with that I’m able to get back to where I was, if not even better. Just the way that I’ve been moving and doing the on-court work, being able to play some live action stuff. Yeah, it has been a while since we’ve played a real live game, but I think I’m confident in saying I’m ready to go. I’m ready to make an impact in any way I can and my body is where it needs to be right now and I’m excited about that.”
Luke Kennard, Ivica Zubac, and Terance Mann getting some work in on the court today in their first day in the facility.
(🎥 by Clippers) pic.twitter.com/SA0RssGtSf
— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) December 1, 2020
In case anyone needs a refresher, the Clippers suffered one of the worst meltdowns this past postseason, but they took a commanding 3-1 series lead over the Denver Nuggets in the first place. Shotmaking, or lack thereof, was just one of the few reasons for the collapse, and it’s a role Luke Kennard believes he can fill seamlessly.
“I’m a shooter. I can knock down open shots. I’m a confident shooter, scorer, playmaker. Just the ability to space the floor and have weapons around the floor — it’s gonna create an offensive threat to any team so I’m excited to play alongside those guys and learn a lot. Should be a really good season for us.”
New head coach Tyronn Lue hasn’t gotten to work with Kennard much yes, but plans to use him a lot as a ball-handler and playmaker for these Clippers.
“You can use him on the ball, run pick-and-roll, coming off a lot of dribble hand-off action, I think coming off pin-downs, catch and shoot — he’s shown he can do all three things,” Lue said. “He’s a shooter than can make plays, which is very rare in our game. Usually it’s one or the other, but he’s shown that he can do a lot of different things, he’s very versatile.
“If you remember Detroit, toward the end of the season, they started playing him at the point guard a little bit to see how that’ll look and he did a fairly good job, so he’s a guy that you can use in different facets of the game, coming off pin-downs, running pick and roll, coming off of DHOs, so we’ll just move him around a lot in the offense.”
As a member of the Detroit Pistons, Kennard had an extended offseason that began in March and is only ending now. He was able to watch NBA games during the restart in Orlando, including most Clippers games.
“I watched almost every game that I could. I did watch a lot of Clippers games. They obviously have a few of the best players in the league, and I’m excited to be a part of that and learn from guys like Kawhi [Leonard] and Paul George. You know, I think for me, something I can bring is just continuing to space the floor for those guys, allowing them to do their thing. They’re at the top of their game right now, and just for me, [my job is just] to space the floor and allow them to create more space to allow them to play their game.”
Kennard is a career 44.1 percent shooter for his career, which isn’t great, but he’s also a 40.2 percent 3-point shooter, which is outstanding. Prior to his injuries, Kennard averaged career highs across the board at 15.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game. He’ll have every opportunity with the Clippers to become that scoring threat they need from outside.
“Oh yeah, no doubt,” Kennard affirmed when asked about expecting a lot of open looks now that he’s playing with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. “No doubt. I mean, why wouldn’t any team focus on those guys a lot. To be able to space the floor, I gotta be ready to shoot cuz they’re playmakers, they can pass the ball, they know how to handle different types of defensive scenarios and situations, so I gotta be ready at all times whenever I’m in the game with those guys, be ready to shoot and knock down open shots.”
Whether or not Kennard fits or will be healthy enough to is something that we’ll have to wait and see.
By all accounts, Luke Kennard should be able to fit perfectly alongside Leonard and George. He’s a young scorer and playmaker who should be able to take some attention from the big-name players. The biggest question marks surrounding him will be his health.
Kennard will be entering the final year of his rookie deal. He’s eligible for a rookie extension, but the deadline to sign that is Dec. 21, just prior to the start of the regular season. If an agreement can’t be worked out by that deadline, Kennard will enter the summer of 2021 as a restricted free agent.