Auburn Hills — The story was of little consequence to Pistons rookie Luke Kennard. It drew nothing more than a shrug and a smile.
But maybe he could take some solace in it nevertheless.
Before Tayshaun Prince became one of the heroes of the Pistons 2004 championship team, he was a first-round draft pick buried on the depth chart much like Kennard is right now. Not only did Prince not play in games during his rookie season (2002-2003), he barely played in practice.
Often coach Rick Carlisle would scrimmage and do game drills with the first two units, leaving Prince to watch from the baseline.
Yet, Prince stayed engaged, soaked up everything that was being taught. And when Carlisle, out of desperation, threw his long-armed rookie into the fire during the playoffs, Prince made an immediate impact and wound up starting 490 of 492 games over the next six seasons.
“There have been guys who didn’t play for years and became good players,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “Jermaine O’Neal in Portland never got off the bench for three or four years and then all of a sudden, he’s an all-star.
“You can develop in practice. I mean, I’m not going to say games aren’t helpful. But it’s not like you can’t develop because you’re not playing right away. … If you are really focused on it and you do your work every day and watch your film, you can develop.”
Kennard, the 12th overall pick in the last draft, presently sits behind starting two-guard Avery Bradley, as well as Langston Galloway and Reggie Bullock. The 10 minutes he played Saturday against the Kings was his first game action in a week.
Barring injury, his development will continue to come from practice reps.
“My mentality coming in my first year was to learn a lot about the game and develop into a great player,” Kennard said after a 21/2-hour practice Monday. “I think I can be a really good player in this league, but I am taking the time I have here with this great coaching staff and these great teammates and learn all I can.
“But at the same time, I want to make an impact and help this team.”
Van Gundy is walking a very difficult line with Kennard, trying to facilitate and accelerate his development with Priority No. 1 being winning basketball games.
“It’s not easy to make these decisions,” he said. “Clearly, playing time helps these guys. But at the same time, I also have a big responsibility to the guys on this team who are putting forth a lot of effort and to putting guys out there who give us the best chance to win.
“Trying to balance those things is not easy.”
And he hears the clamoring of the fan base. He knows they want to see Kennard and last year’s first-rounder Henry Ellenson play.
“I have a great appreciation for the fans, but I never feel pressure about that,” Van Gundy said. “I put pressure on myself to do the best job I can to put the team in the best position to win games.”
He knows it's an almost no-win situation when it comes to appeasing the public.
“Here’s the thing:” Van Gundy said. “I understand the fans and I know what they want. They want everybody to play, especially the young guys, and they want you to win every game. If you do both of those things, they will be really happy.
“If you do only one of those things, they won’t be as happy. And if you do neither, they are really going to hate you. They want to see Stanley (Johnson), Henry and Luke out there every game and they want us to win every game — easily if we can.”
But in the real world, the task is to continue to get Kennard acclimated to the speed and complexities of the NBA game. Kennard and Ellenson were dispatched to Grand Rapids on Sunday to play in a G League game. The numbers they produced look flashy — Kennard scored 26 points with four steals in 39 minutes, Ellenson 28 points, nine rebounds in 38 minutes.
Van Gundy only saw teaching points.
“Both had pretty good games, but, we will talk to them,” he said. “They need to focus on the things they need to do to get back into the rotation in Henry’s case and for Luke to get into the rotation.
“That’s what they need to focus on when they are there.”
For Ellenson, it’s his play at the defensive end. For Kennard, it’s playing with better pace.
“The good thing is, he’s always under control,” Van Gundy said. “But I think once he makes a decision to come off a screen — whether it’s to a handoff of coming off as a shooter — he’s got to come off hard. Like Avery does. Like J.J. Redick does. Like Kyle Korver does.
“He’s got great confidence once he gets the ball in his hands, which is good. But a lot of times he’s slowing down and he’s thinking he’s going to make his plays after he gets the ball in his hands. He needs to speed it up to get more separation.”
It’s a matter of thinking less and just playing instinctively.
“You have to play at a different pace in the NBA,” Kennard said. “It’s not that you have to be faster. You just have to know what reads to make, when to go full speed and when to change speeds up. I’ve worked on it a lot and I am getting more comfortable as time goes on.”
He agreed that he’s thinking too much on the court.
“Coming into the NBA, the schemes are different and obviously, it’s the next level,” he said. “I’ve caught myself thinking when I’ve been out there and it’s slowed me down. I think that’s what coach is talking about, wanting me to be more aggressive and play at a better pace.
“Just using my instincts — just play and be myself.”
Which brings it back to Van Gundy’s dilemma: More playing time would help Kennard find his rhythm and flow, but playing him over Bradley and Galloway would be detrimental to the team — foolhardy, in fact, given the team’s 7-3 start.
So, the apprenticeship continues.
“I’ve been fine,” Kennard said, when asked about his patience level. “I feel I’m at a good spot right now, mentally and physically. I am staying patient. It’s like I’ve said before, when my number is called, I am going to be ready.
“And when it’s called, I want to make an impact.”
Echoes of Tayshaun Prince are still being heard at the Pistons practice facility.
Neither small forward Stanley Johnson (hip flexor) nor center Jon Leuer (ankle) practiced on Monday. Van Gundy said both would be evaluated again before practice on Tuesday.