Pistons rookie guard Luke Kennard met with reporters Sunday and touched on a number of topics. Rod Beard, Detroit News
Auburn Hills — The shots were falling Saturday for Pistons rookie Luke Kennard. For the first time in almost a month, he scored in double figures, going for a career-high 20 points in the victory over the San Antonio Spurs.
Kennard played a career-high 30 minutes and went 7-of-12, including 4-of-5 on 3-pointers. With an injury depleted lineup, missing four of his regular rotation players, coach Stan Van Gundy had to lean on the reserves a bit more — and Kennard and Reggie Bullock (22 points) came through, both with career-best scoring games.
It’s been one of the loudest refrains from Kennard fans: Give him more playing time and he can produce. In his 30 games, Saturday marked the seventh time he scored in double figures, with four starts mixed in. He hasn’t gotten the volume of minutes to score at that level; it’s been a work in progress to earn playing time.
Van Gundy repeatedly has said that the key for Kennard to get more playing time is improved defense; he’s had mixed results when guarding one of the premium positions on the court and he sometimes gets lost in the mental part of the game and staying locked in on game plans, rotations and assignments.
He went from one of his toughest games, in Thursday’s loss to the Orlando Magic to a signature win of Saturday.
“I wanted to have a lot more focus because I had a rough game in Orlando. My mindset was to come in more focused and play with more energy, so I was really dialed in on that, especially on the defensive end,” Kennard said Sunday. “The way we played, it was contagious to everybody, the way we pressure the ball. We had so much energy from starters to bench guys.
“It was contagious and I fed into that, trying to be focused at the same time. I let the game come to me and just played and we had a lot of fun.”
Kennard is starting to show more consistency in his time on the court, but isn’t one of the highest priorities in the offense. With the starters, he plays a secondary role to Tobias Harris and Andre Drummond in getting shots; with the reserves, there are more shooters and he has to find his as part of the collective.
With his varied skill set, that fits him, but he has to grow into a role of finding the shots and letting the offense come to him, much the same way that Bullock has done.
“For all of our guys, that’s something they have to get used to. We’re really not running plays targeting people: not isolating or a ton of pick-and-roll,” Van Gundy said. “The guys who can find their way in an offense and move without the ball and read defense — to me, it’s right up Luke’s alley.
“He’s a smart guy who sees the game and it should be very good for him.”
Against the likes of the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard, Kennard started to find a groove, and the shots started to fall. With the reserve group, he’s found a level of comfort and it showed against the Spurs, as his familiarity continues to grow.
He’s used to running with the second group, but with Ish Smith moving to starter, he’s had to adjust to playing with Langston Galloway and now Dwight Buycks. The players don’t matter as much as the kind of tone they set, with running in transition, playing tough defense and, most importantly, sharing the ball.
“It comes down to the way we’re playing as a group. We were very unselfish; we were just playing, not worried about how many shots and playing as a group,” Kennard said. “We played unselfish and when it’s like that, we have guys who can make shots and the game comes to us.”
Even playing with a second unit is tough for Kennard, who has been the focus of most teams he’s played on since he was a child. Having to play a secondary role is a different mindset, but he’s making the most of the chance.
“In college, my first year was that way and it was an adjustment,” he said.
“I’m always looking for ways to get better and learn. I’m trying to make an impact and learn at the same time.”