As with many Duke players who head to the NBA draft, Luke Kennard has something to prove. Throughout the years, former Blue Devils players have had a checkered history of success in the NBA.
There’s Grant Hill, then there’s Jay Williams. There’s Kyrie Irving, then there’s Bobby Hurley. And there are dozens of examples in between.
The latest in the long line of Duke prospects is Luke Kennard, who is scheduled to work out with the Pistons Saturday in preparation for the NBA draft on June 22 in Brooklyn.
Kennard, 21, is defying earlier projections, which had him pegged in the bottom half of the first round. Now, he appears to be creeping up many mock drafts — and one landing spot is with the Pistons, who have the No. 12 pick.
As with many of the prospects outside the top 10, there are plenty of questions that go along with the potential upside. Kennard shot 44 percent on 3-pointers as a sophomore last season at Duke and showed an affinity for hitting shots off the dribble as well as in spot-up situations. That’s the upside the Pistons and other teams see.
But the concerns are whether he can make the step up to NBA-caliber competition and avoid being just another average player — like former Blue Devils and Pistons wing Kyle Singler. Kennard has drawn those comparisons from some, but he’s looking to change some opinions and make a name for himself in the NBA.
“I’ve gotten a lot stronger and it’s helped me offensively and defensively. One of the big things I want to show in workouts is my competitiveness and how well I’ve improved defensively,” Kennard told Pacers.com after his workout in Indiana this week. “My offense will come after that but one of the big things (for me) is athleticism and working hard on the defensive end.”
At 6-foot-6, Kennard has good size and shooting ability and could fill the role of backup shooting guard for the Pistons, who ranked among the worst teams in the NBA in 3-point shooting. Another question is Kennard’s athleticism and whether he’ll be able to defend opposing shooting guards.
It’s a legitimate question, as the two players who could be ahead of Kennard on the depth chart, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Stanley Johnson, are the Pistons’ best perimeter defenders.
There are no sure bets near the middle of the first round, but the Pistons might be willing to take a shot on Kennard, though there are whispers that they’d like to package the pick with someone else on the roster in order to obtain a “win-now” veteran.
Both Pistons president Stan Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower have indicated that at the No. 12 spot there might not be a transformative player, but possibly one who could provide depth. For the Pistons, that could be the goal, much like the role Henry Ellenson filled last season.
In that way, Kennard could become more valuable if he’s able to fill a couple of roles, including attacking off the pick-and-roll and creating shot opportunities for his teammates.
“I’ve been put in different situations and I’m comfortable with and without the ball,” Kennard told DraftExpress.com this week. “The way the league is today, the floor is really spaced for shooters, but if you have the ball, you have to be able to handle it in pick-and-rolls and create plays for other guys as well. I’m comfortable in any situation and I’m looking forward to it.”
That versatility and court vision could be something the Pistons look for in Saturday’s workout. Kennard said he could be comfortable playing any of the wing positions in the NBA, but the obvious appeal would be his shooting.
Kennard is a lefty, but boasts some skills with both hands. It’s an uncanny gift, but he’s developed strength from both sides.
“I’m pretty ambidextrous. I shoot left-handed and throw right-handed; it’s a weird combination,” he said. “I do a lot of things right-handed. I’m comfortable with my right hand. It’s not something I worked on; it just happened.”
Saturday is the big day, where he’ll have the chance to show off his wares in front of the Pistons staff and make a case.