Kennard gets stronger, showcases shooting prowess for Pistons

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Luke Kennard

Auburn Hills — Just after Luke Kennard decided to forego his final two years of eligibility at Duke and enter the NBA draft, he knew he had some work to do.

Even after a sophomore season in which he hit 44 percent from beyond the arc, Kennard went to the gym to continue working on his 3-point shot, preparing for the longer line in the NBA. The 3-point line is at 20-foot-9 in college, 23-foot-9 in the NBA.

Kennard's shooting has become something of a calling card, but not the only potent part of Kennard’s skill set.

He’s also looking to show that he can be a good ball-handler, a dynamic and versatile scorer and a good defender. He put all his wares on display at his pre-draft workout on Saturday morning at the Pistons’ practice facility.

“When I decided to come out, I went straight to (3-point shooting) and it was an adjustment at first,” said Kennard, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard. “Even the ball is different. After getting a lot of reps and being focused on that and getting adjusted, it got a lot better and more comfortable.”

It’s not that it was ever hard, but for the truly elite shooters, there are always more shots to get up and very little in the way of complacency. Kennard is opening some eyes with his workouts and his development since his sophomore season, when he averaged 19.5 points and 5.1 rebounds with the Blue Devils.

That has some teams in the top half of the first round eyeing Kennard — even some ahead of the Pistons, who pick 12th. Kennard says he has workouts scheduled with the Magic (sixth), Knicks (eighth), Mavericks (ninth) and Hornets (11th).

A few weeks ago, many considered Kennard a reach at No. 12, but with more teams interested in him of late, he could be gone before the Pistons pick. That could throw things into a tizzy, as the Pistons covet shooting as much as any skill set in the draft; beyond Kennard, there isn’t another top shooting guard that’s projected in the middle of the first round.

Kennard is looking to showcase his strength and athleticism in his three workouts before the Pistons.

That’s been one of the big questions about him heading into the draft, but he’s been able to open some eyes with the work he’s done.

“One of the biggest things for me is the strength part. I’ve been working hard to get a lot stronger, which helps with everything,” Kennard said. “I really improved on the defensive end and my athleticism and explosiveness and quickness.

“I’m trying to show that in different ways: still being creative offensively and when defense comes around in the workout, showing myself off on the defensive end as well. I’ve improved on my strength throughout this process and it’s really paid off.”

While many consider Kennard to be a spot-up 3-point shooter, he’s more versatile with the ball, playing in many different situations. Part of the Pistons workout was using some of the bigs in pick-and-roll situations and showing his passing and recognition skills.

One of the other prospects at Saturday’s workout was big man Harry Giles, who played last season with Kennard at Duke. He was able to see firsthand how versatile Kennard can be.

“I know because I played with him. If you watch the film, you can see he does more than just a spot-up shooter,” Giles said Saturday. “He can shoot off the dribble and do a lot of things. As his game expands, the better he’ll get.”

The bigger improvement is likely to come on the defensive end, where Kennard hasn’t shown elite-level athleticism or an ability to excel so far. But there are other elements to playing good defense, such as communicating and being more solid, not getting beat off the ball.

That’s an area Kennard looks to continue his work.

“Just being able to be vocal is a big thing on defense and I really improved on that. My competitiveness, I’m really competitive and wanting to defend is going to be another big thing,” he said. “I love to compete and win and like to be a leader and I can bring that to a team defensively.”

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard