Luke Kennard’s year one development prognosis can be summed up in one sentence: “Luke Kennard finished in the top-20 in the NBA in 3-point percentage and made the Pistons offense 3.1 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the floor.” Prior to the draft, there was concern with how well Kennard’s absurdly efficient offense from Duke would translate to the NBA. So far, so good. He is one of six rookies in the last decade to shoot better than 40.5 percent from 3 on more than 175 attempts.
The 2017 NBA rookie class was dominated by Jayson Tatum, Ben Simmons, and Donovan Mitchell’s explosive emergence as potential stars, but it was Kennard who showcased potential as the class’s best shooter. Despite facing a massive roster upheaval midseason, Kennard showed very strong potential as a floor spacer from the start of the season to the end, and it’s easy to see where his role needs to go moving forward.
On a team built around Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, and Reggie Jackson, floor spacing from the other two players on the court is paramount. Kennard’s value then starts with his ability to catch-and-shoot from outside, where he hit 44.5 percent on 155 attempts last season.
Kennard’s form is crisp, consistent, and most importantly, he displays an innate body control that is a prerequisite to being an elite shooter. Kennard can square and fire coming off screens, off the move, and against a tight close-outs, and that’s what truly sets him apart as a shooting prospect.
The numbers back this up — per NBA Synergy data, Kennard was in the 96th percentile of players on spot-ups as a rookie — with plenty of room to improve, as well. He shot 37.5 percent on “open” 3s, for example, and the Pistons didn’t really involve him in too many complex screen sets because he’s not strong at using screens to spring himself. If he can get tighter running off double or flare screens, he’ll be able to generate more looks like this one.
This shooting profile sets a nice baseline for Kennard’s future as an offensive role player, but he does hint at more value, thanks to the translation of that body control to his pull-up game. Kennard shot 44.5 percent on pull-up 2s, and the Pistons provided more primary creation opportunities for him as the season went on.
Kennard’s pick-and-roll efficiency was his calling card at Duke, but skepticism at how it would translate was warranted given his lack of burst towards the rim. But despite that continuing to be an issue, Kennard still found a way to be effective, thanks to his handle and poise coming off high screens.
He also shows poise as a passer, although his technical skill isn’t at an acceptable level yet. He does fire some off-target passes out of the pick-and-roll:
But his decision-making is strong enough that it should allow him to be a valuable secondary playmaker on a competitor some day. This play, where he pump-fakes Joffrey Lauvergne and pulls Patty Mills out of the paint on the break, is a high-level decision that shows what type of playmaking ceiling he could have.
The question for Kennard moving forward is volume. We know he can create in these limited stretches, but it’s hard to determine how valuable that’s going to be on a higher volume. He’s never going to be a high-level finisher, and while his mid-range shooting is brilliant off the dribble, he needs to extend that out to the 3-point line, which hasn’t happened yet. He risks being Jarrett Jack as a creator at this point if that doesn’t happen, and while Jack isn’t a terrible player, that caps his value, especially since he is going to be a one-way player regardless of outcome.
Kennard has the ability to be an elite-level NBA shooter, and there’s a small window that he can become a nice option as an ancillary offensive initiator, as well. He assimilated to the NBA pretty quickly, and he provided this value on a limited roster that was lacking in other floor-spacers, meaning he had to carry a lot of gravity early on. This year, he needs to take the next step in that progression, becoming more consistent at getting open off ball, and developing better range off the dribble. Kennard doesn’t get talked about as one of the more promising players in this class. But his talents as a shooter are real, and he might be the most valuable young player on the Pistons moving forward.