Auburn Hills — Ahead of last summer’s NBA draft, the Pistons faced a dilemma of whether to pick Luke Kennard or Donovan Mitchell.
Kennard was regarded as the best shooter in the draft, but Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy wasn’t sure about if he’d be able to stay with NBA guards on the defensive end.
Some of those fears were quieted with Kennard’s performance in the Orlando Summer League. Through some of their voluntary work in the past few weeks, Kennard has raised a few more eyebrows with his ability to hold his own on defense.
After Tuesday afternoon’s first official practice of training camp, Kennard looks like he could garner a spot in the playing rotation.
“I think it’s going to be really hard to keep him off the floor. We’ve got good depth at the wings, so it’s (also) possible he could end up out of the rotation,” Van Gundy said. “He’s just really good. He’s got great skills, he can shoot and pass — which are two great things — and he’s just got a very good feel for the game, reading the defense.
“I thought he did a better job than I expected in the summer league defensively and watching him for the three weeks of voluntary stuff here, he’s capable of moving his feet and being pretty good defensively.”
Kennard, a 6-foot-6 guard, was the No. 12 overall pick in the draft and although the Pistons also there’s a crowded backcourt — with Reggie Jackson, Ish Smith, Avery Bradley and Langston Galloway — there might be a way for Kennard to garner some minutes.
Van Gundy typically utilizes a smaller rotation of eight or nine players but with Kennard’s progress on the defensive end and the flashes he showed in summer league, that number could either include Kennard outright or be expanded to include him.
“What I anticipate is it’ll fluctuate some during the year but at any given time, we’ll have eight or nine guys playing in a rotation but then we’ve got a lot of guys who will be situational too,” Van Gundy said. “Whether it’s we’re on a back-to-back and we need a little more energy or we need more shooting on the floor. Right now, everybody is (available to be in the rotation).
“If anybody on my staff made a case for this guy can be or should be in the top eight, (Kennard) would be a legitimate case.”
One of the obstacles that many young players face in getting playing time early is finding a defensive groove. Kennard didn’t look to be in that mold before the draft, but the more Van Gundy saw, the more he started to like him.
“I thought coming out of the draft, it was going to be a major concern. I was honest with him: I didn’t think he defended at all,” he said. “Watching him on film, it was a little scary, to be honest. We loved his offense and we bet on his toughness and intelligence would lead him into being a good enough defender.”
“Watching him for the last three weeks, he’s not a below-average guy in terms of moving his feet. He’s got decent size, he’s strong and he actually should develop into a good defender. It should be a strength of his as he learns systems and rotations, he should actually be at least an average — if not an above-average — defender very, very quickly.”
As Van Gundy said during Monday’s media day, the Pistons are dealing with a couple of minor injuries at training camp.
Monitoring Reggie Jackson’s knee tendinitis is the highest priority, but Galloway, who has a bone bruise in his knee, also will be limited. Both participated in Tuesday’s early practice, but won’t do any of the 5-on-5 contact work in the evening session of two-a-days.
“They’ll just conditioning and do non-impact in the pool,” Van Gundy said. “It’ll be the same (Tuesday) for non-contact and same thing Thursday (no scrimmage), then Friday they’ll go through the practice and if everything is going good, they’ll scrimmage on Saturday.”