Pistons nab 'best shooter in the draft' in Luke Kennard

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Luke Kennard with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being drafted 12th overall by the Detroit Pistons in the NBA draft on Thursday.

Auburn Hills — There was a lot of bluster and several rumors about what the Pistons would do in Thursday’s NBA draft.

In the end, though, they did the safe thing. They kept the pick and resisted a franchise-altering trade.

And Pistons president-coach Stan Van Gundy was happy with the way things turned out — they got a player they had scouted all the way through the process.

The Pistons selected Duke shooting guard Luke Kennard with the No. 12 pick in first round, addressing one of their biggest needs: outside shooting.

Kennard (6-foot-6) impressed the Pistons in his workout at the practice facility on June 10 and by his shooting performance at his pro day. Kennard, regarded as one of the best shooters in the draft, hit 44 percent from beyond the arc last season for the Blue Devils, and looks to be an immediate fit with the Pistons, who ranked 28th in 3-point shooting.

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“He can really play offensively. He is skilled guy with a polished offensive game,” Van Gundy said. “He can shoot the ball, he’s got great footwork but the think I liked is he can make plays off the dribble and he can pass the ball.

“We said from an offensive standpoint going into the summer, we wanted to add 3-point shooting and guys who can make plays and create shots — and he can do both of those.”

At the draft in New York, Kennard sported a grey suit with a blue and black tie and hugged his crying mother after NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced the selection.

“You know, it’s a dream come true. I’m sure guys have said that, but it really is,” Kennard said. “I worked my entire life for a moment like this, and to be able to go to Detroit and make an impact in any way I can. I’m just looking forward to it and it’s a great opportunity.”

Kennard was lauded for not just his spot-up shooting, but also his ability to create shots off the dribble and in traffic. He projects as a backup behind Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, adding some scoring punch off the bench.

“They’re getting the best shooter in the draft,” ESPN analyst Jay Williams said on the draft show.

In his second season at Duke, Kennard improved to become the leading scorer and was a second-team All-America selection. He was the MVP of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and he averaged 19.5 points and 5.1 rebounds, hitting 86 percent from the free-throw line.

That was enough to convince him it was time to head for the NBA.

“It was a difficult decision at the end of the year. I was torn between (staying and going pro),” Kennard said after his workout. “After a pretty good season, I was able to sit down with coach and my parents and my other coaches and they thought it was a good opportunity for me to leave and a good time.”

Kennard, who throws right-handed but shoots lefty, said he watches several NBA players to improve his game and wants to work toward a comparison to one of his favorite players.

“(Warriors guard) Klay Thompson and the way he moves without the ball and the way he shoots the ball,” Kennard said. “He’s always in the right spot. I love to watch him.”

Soon after the pick was announced, Kennard’s new teammates took to Twitter to welcome him to the NBA.

It’s unclear how much playing time Kennard could get in his first season. Last year’s first-round pick, Henry Ellenson, played in just 19 games with the Pistons, spending a majority of the season with the Grand Rapids Drive in the Development League.

Kennard could play some backup minutes behind Caldwell-Pope, which was playing time that Stanley Johnson dominated last season.

“I’m going to learn from veterans like (Caldwell-Pope) and the other guys will allow me to mature as a player and to be able to play that way, it fits me," Kennard said.

“So I think it gives me a good opportunity to help make an impact and allow us to make that next step.”


Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard