The Detroit Pistons have been one of the hottest teams in the NBA since the month of February. They have jumped up to the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, with a record of 32-31, and are 10-2 in their last 12 games. Blake Griffin has done his part as usual, even those his numbers have regressed since the All-Star Break. Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond are finally playing at the potential the two can, as they form one of the best pick-and-roll duos in the league. But, the most significant rise on the roster has come from second-year wing Luke Kennard, whose play has helped raise Detroit’s offense that has had the best rating in the league since February 1st.
Since the beginning of February, Kennard has averaged 13.4 points on 48.5 percent shooting from the field and 46.6 percent shooting from the 3-point line. He’s been coming off the bench but has averaged 26 minutes per game nonetheless.
Kennard’s shooting prowess has been well documented since his time at Duke, when he shot 43.8 percent on over five attempts from the 3-point line in his sophomore season as a Blue Devil, and averaged 19.5 points per game.
This was not the Kennard that the Pistons were playing with earlier in the season. After an offseason in which he spent time on the mend, he suffered a right shoulder strain on October 25th that kept him off the court until December 3rd. In the first month of his return, Kennard shot just 40 percent from the field and 33 percent from the 3-point line. He showed the lack of confidence in himself that stuck him on the bench under Stan Van Gundy in his rookie year. He looked disinterested and lacked a sense of urgency.
Then everything just came out.
On January 10th against the Sacramento Kings, Kennard had to be restrained by numerous players on the Pistons roster as he began barking at Detroit’s coaches on the bench. The rage from Kennard, a quiet and discreet player, was as unexpected as it could be.
— Palace Pistons (@PalaceOfPistons) January 11, 2019
But the rage seemingly sparked him into playing the best basketball of his career. Following his outburst, he scored in double-figures in four of the next five games, in which he played with an aggressive attitude yet to be seen from the hushed sharpshooter.
His name was murmured in trade talks at the trade deadline, with Memphis pleading for Kennard to be part of a package that would send him to the Grizzlies for Mike Conley. The Pistons declined. They were adamant to unlock the surge of talent within Kennard.
And they did just that.
He now plays a crucial role on a team in the thick of a playoff race, leading the bench unit’s offense while finishing games with the starting lineup of Detroit. In the Pistons last 15 games, Kennard is fourth on the team in shot attempts per game, attempting 10.1 per game. He’s right where he should be in the pecking order, behind Griffin, Jackson, and Drummond, but he probably should still be shooting more. He’s also fourth on the team in points per game in the same stretch, behind the same three teammates.
His scoring is prolific, and if he’s hot, opponents have no chance in cooling off a man that now dawns the nickname “Cool Hand Luke.” Since February, Kennard has shot 50 percent on open 3-pointers on 44 attempts.
And when he gets bored, he’ll do something like this.
But Kennard is more than just a 3-point shooter. He has a silky smooth mid-range game, in which he has shot 45 percent from this season. He does most of his work in the mid-range using shot fakes and his dribbling ability to create a look that, even if it doesn’t look like an open shot, is one for Kennard.
Kennard’s offensive profile doesn’t end there. Local fans have lauded his playmaking to the extent that they want Kennard to play some point guard, but he excels as a secondary distributor that can operate the pick-and-roll with any of Detroit’s bigs. Here, Kennard executes a perfect pick-and-roll with Thon Maker, that ends with him lobbing it to Maker for two points.
Defensively, Kennard still has a ways to go. He still struggles to defend in one-on-one situations due to slower feet, but is learning how to use his body, and most importantly, he using his hands better than he ever has before.
This area of development is rather crucial for Kennard. He is already an offensive savant, but he needs to be a good enough defender to not get played off the floor in the playoffs against the league’s best wingmen.
The way in which Kennard is playing is what fans have clamored for him to do since he played his first minute in the league. It’s apparent that when he wants to score the ball, he is very much able to do so. When he doesn’t want to play third or fourth fiddle to whoever he is on the court with, he can be one of the best players on the court. When he’s confident there just isn’t much any defender can do to stop him.
At just 22 years old, Luke Kennard already has a well-rounded offensive repertoire with a developing defensive game that is looking more promising than expected. There is still much room for him to grow, and he needs to show the type of aggressiveness and confidence that he has been playing with for the past few months for a longer stretch, but so much is trending in the right direction for him.
He will continue to play a pivotal role for a Detroit team desperate to make the playoffs, but only if he plays with the passion that has infected him as of late.
Luke Kennard is no longer the mistake the Pistons made when they selected him over Donovan Mitchell in the 2017 NBA Draft. He is the team’s rising star of a shooting guard of the future, who can score with elite efficiency, thrive as a secondary playmaker, and make himself useful on the defensive end. He has gone from a player that a city has bellowed over mistakingly taking to a player that fans yell for him to shoot the ball every time it touches his hands.
Will the Pistons win a playoff series this season? Unlikely. But they can compete. And with the way they are playing as of late, who knows? They have beaten Indiana, Philadelphia, and Toronto all this season. They’re one of the hottest teams in the league.
The Pistons are playing their best basketball right now, as is Luke Kennard, one of the next top shooting guards in the league.