New York — Luke Kennard sat near the end of the bench Wednesday, waiting for the call from coach Stan Van Gundy.
Or a look. Or anything.
Foul trouble could have helped his situation but it wasn’t happening on this day.
Kennard’s first NBA game turned out to be a DNP-CD — Did Not Play, Coach’s Decision.
It’s the hard reality of the NBA, where first-round picks aren’t guaranteed playing time, especially on teams that have veteran experience at the same position. Kennard was regarded as the best shooter in the draft and when the Pistons’ pick came, they opted to pick him over Donovan Mitchell and other prospects.
Van Gundy just didn’t pick Kennard to play in the opener.
“Luke was upset that he didn’t play,” Van Gundy said. “You hope that’s what you’ve got (as a reaction).”
Kennard got his chance in Friday night’s loss to the Washington Wizards, shooting 5-for-8, 2-of-4 on 3-pointers, for 11 points in 19 minutes. He flashed a mix of pump fakes and mid-range jumpers, validating Van Gundy’s decision to include him in the rotation Friday.
“He came in and had a good first half; he knows the one thing: it’s be aggressive. The first three or four days of camp, he was really good,” Van Gundy said. “Then, I don’t know if it was fatigue, but he went through the last two weeks of the preseason pretty passive offensively — that’s what we didn’t like.
“Tonight, he was aggressive and we want him to play the game that way. It was good.”
Van Gundy has said the rotation will fluctuate from game to game, depending on matchups, which could make it an uneasy time for the reserves, not knowing whether they’ll play regularly. That includes Henry Ellenson, who had 13 points in the opener and got a DNP-CD on Friday.
When his name was called, though, Kennard responded.
“I know my teammates and coaches just kept telling me just to be ready,” Kennard said Friday. “That’s what I did. I listened. Taking this opportunity that I’ve had, and I’ve learned a lot.
“I’m just going to continue to stay ready, and if my name is called to play, then I want to try to make an impact wherever I can.”
Kennard had back-to-back nice pump fakes and took a step in for an easier jumper twice on the Wizards’ Otto Porter and was more assertive in looking for his shot. That led to some more confidence and a couple of 3-pointers going for him too.
“(Being aggressive) was just my mentality,” he said. “Once they told me that I needed to be more aggressive, I kept that with me and I'm going to continue to do that, continue to improve and just continue to be aggressive.”
Johnson bounces back
Stanley Johnson, who was 0-of-13 from the field in the opener, had a good bounce-back game with 11 points, making all three of his field goals, with a 3-pointer and going 3-of-4 on free throws. Rather than hanging his head about the horrific first game, he stayed with Van Gundy’s mantra of shooting good shots and got back on track.
“It was good. It was a no-option clause: you’re going to keep shooting the ball. I worked a lot on my game and it was disappointing not to see them going in the first night,” Johnson said. “I worked a lot on my game and my teammates are really good about encouraging me and we all encourage each other to shoot the ball when we’re open.”
Johnson got a call from Reggie Jackson, who encouraged him to keep doing what he was doing and things would turn around. Although many of the misses in the opener were in and out, the stroke came back against the Wizards.
“(Thursday) night I made sure to hit him up and let him know he played amazing. To know you didn’t make shots and continue to take your shots and help the team out, he continued to make himself a threat and defensively he never gave up,” Jackson said. “It’s great. For him, he felt good. He’d been shooting extremely well in the preseason, so to have that type of night on the first night was tough. The most proud of him was the way he continued to compete and take his shots.”