Pistons’ Kennard shows off shooting, focuses on ‘D’

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Orlando, Fla. — A week ago, Luke Kennard was trying to figure out where the next chapter of his life would lead him. It was an uneasy time, but since being drafted 12th overall by the Pistons, he’s got some of it figured out.

The next step is getting his feet with the Pistons’ summer league team. He’s gotten a couple practices under his belt and already is getting more comfortable on both ends of the court. The Pistons have two-a-day practices ahead of the start of the Orlando Summer League schedule Saturday.

“The draft seems like it’s been forever ago,” Kennard said following Wednesday’s morning practice. “It’s not even been a week yet and I’ve enjoyed this past week so much, getting to know the people around Detroit and the staff here and some of the players. It’s neat and I’m taking it all in and enjoying it.”

Now, the priority shifts from the pomp and circumstance of the draft to the real work in the gym, on improving his game and getting ready for NBA-level competition. He’ll have a few more practices before things get real in the games.

“I’ve just been taking it all in and it’s a learning experience for me right now. These first three practices have gone really well and I’ve learned a lot,” Kennard said. “It’s an adjustment I’m making right now but it’s going really well.”

Kennard, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard, will be one of the focal points of the summer league team, along with stretch forward Henry Ellenson. Both are good 3-point shooters, but the questions about each are similar: whether they can perform on the defensive end.

With Kennard at such a premium position, it’s the biggest question surrounding Kennard — one that he’ll be looking to answer with some hard work and focus.

“I’ve definitely improved over these past three practices, honestly. The coaches have been great with teaching me different things defensively that will help: being in the right spots and making the right plays,” he said. “It’s a thing you have to have the mindset to do — if you want to guard, then you’ll guard. I have that mindset and I’m working to improve on that.”

Kennard has a good defensive mentor in Pistons third-year wing Stanley Johnson, who is one of their best perimeter defenders. He’s leading the summer league squad and participating in practices, though he will not play in games.

While there are questions on defense, there’s little to ponder about what Kennard can do on the offensive end. He shot 44 percent last season as a sophomore at Duke and his ability to create shots off the dribble will be another piece to watch in the summer league.

So far in practice, he’s making some believers.

“He looked great; he’s been picking up stuff really well. There’s no question that he can shoot the lights out,” Ellenson said. “That’s fun to see him knock down balls. Playing with him is a lot of fun, too, because when you kick it, it’s about to go in.

“Being a pure shooter, but he can do more than just shoot. That’s the thing: He can knock down shots and last year, we didn’t do a good job on it. (After the season) guys were working on it but adding Luke, it was huge.”

Beyond the 3-point shooting, the appeal for Kennard is his ability to drive and dish or pull up and hit a jumper. They haven’t had many players with that varied a skill set, but it could take some time to hone it.

Of course, there’s no better time to work on it than in summer league.

“I’m looking forward to (the games), just to play against some different guys. The guys we have here are great and we compete against each other. I’m excited to get my first NBA action,” Kennard said. “I’ve been playing (shooting guard) most of the time in practice and we’ve including some ball-handling pick-and-roll that I’m involved in.”