Detroit Pistons sophomore wing Luke Kennard has recently found a groove as a shooter now in his second year of professional basketball.
Since the All-Star break, the Pistons have connected on a league-best 41.0 percent of their three-pointers. It has been especially helpful to have Kennard on the court. Kennard is averaging 14.2 points per game on 46.4 percent from three-point range since the break.
The former Duke star has also connected on 26 three-pointers since the trade deadline – when the front office moved Reggie Bullock to the Los Angeles Lakers. That ranks seventh-best among all players in the Eastern Conference during this span.
While his minutes and usage rate have not changed, there is a possibility that Detroit is now running more plays for Kennard that they used to instead run for Bullock. His shot chart since the deadline illustrates him with one of the prettiest long-range jumpers in the league.
“He knows he has the confidence of his teammates,” said NBA veteran Jose Calderon, who plays alongside Kennard in Detroit. “Sometimes when you have that, it really makes the rim seem bigger and bigger. He is shooting the ball really well. His form is perfect.”
Calderon said Kennard has a smooth shot with a quick release that allows him to shoot without a dribble off the catch or create off the dribble as well. Plus, because he is left-handed, Calderon believes the young shooter often surprises his defenders that are more used to guarding righties.
“Luke is faster than what a lot of people think,” continued Calderon. “He has really good control over his body. When you are running so hard, he just has the ability to stop and get into his form and shoot it.”
Kennard has averaged 1.5 points per possession when the Pistons run offense in transition. That ranks as the best in the NBA this season out of any player who has finished more than 50 possessions in this high-speed play type.
When his teammate Ish Smith is running the offense out of the backcourt, the two have a special connection. Smith, 30, is considered one of the fastest players in the league, which sparks Kennard to play even better.
“I think our pace is really good and that helps get us good shots,” explained Kennard. “It is such a big momentum play. Momentum can change if you hit a big three in transition. We want to run. We want transition shots and baskets.”
The league average pace (offensive possessions per game) in the NBA is 100.1 this season. But the Pistons play faster (102.0) when Smith takes over as their backcourt anchor. Smith plays at an average offensive speed of 5.18 miles per hour, via Second Spectrum. That is the third-fastest in the league among those who have played at least 600 minutes.
Kennard, who also was in a fast-paced offense in college, is shooting 16-for-32 (50.0 percent) from three-point range after passes from Smith this season.
“He has made half of them from me?!” exclaimed Smith. “Wow. Then I need to keep passing him the ball. Luke is one hell of a player, man.”
Detroit is outscoring opponents by 12.1 points per 100 possessions during the 336 minutes these two players have been on the court together. When adding another sharpshooter in Langston Galloway to that mix, the team has been able to outscore opponents by 20.6 points per 100 in 213 minutes.
Galloway has also had a hot hand from beyond the arc recently. He has been shooting 26-for-44 (59.1 percent) during his most recent 10 appearances for the Pistons. Kennard recognizes that when there are more shooters to space the floor for the team, they will have more chances to succeed.
“When we have Blake Griffin in the post, he gets two or even guys on him,” added Kennard. “So when you are out there with another shooter, defenders can’t leave them either. They just have to make a decision to let Blake score or really lock him down and give an open shot to a shooter.”
Calderon noticed that defenders have recently been double-teaming Kennard more often to try to get the ball out of his hands. However, veterans Smith and Calderon agree that Kennard is a fantastic playmaker more than able to adapt to pressure from defenders.
The 2017 lottery pick has been above average as a finisher and as a passer on pick-and-roll opportunities, too. Plus, he has had success as a spot-up shooter and on dribble handoffs.
“He knows what he has to do to get open,” noted Calderon. “He knows if he needs one of his teammates to set a screen then we have big guys for that. Luke just needs to keep going out there and remain confident.”