Las Vegas — Sometimes, even the best-laid plans don’t make it to fruition. That means adapting to alternatives, which the Pistons will have to do in the Summer League.
Luke Kennard was projected to be one of Detroit's centerpieces for the 30-team tournament, with some sneak peeks at him playing some point guard and acting as a bigger focal point in the offense. That plan went by the wayside when Kennard suffered a left knee strain on Monday and the team announced that he won’t participate in the Summer League.
It’s mostly a precaution, but seeing Kennard in different roles was one of the big subplots of the summer spectacle for the Pistons, who begin play on Friday against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Still, Kennard was ready for the challenge at a new position after a talk with new coach Dwane Casey.
“They mentioned point guard,” Kennard said. “I only went through one practice and we did some half-court stuff, but I started initiating offense with the ball in my hands. I felt comfortable in positions like that and if they feel it’s the right thing, I’m all for it.
“I’m good with whatever and comfortable with whatever.”
The move could be an effort to find more minutes for Kennard in the rotation. In his rookie season, Kennard played primarily behind Reggie Bullock at shooting guard. If Kennard handles the ball more, he can provide versatility and different looks in offensive sets.
Kennard averaged 7.6 points and 2.4 rebounds, hitting 42 percent on 3-pointers in his solid rookie season, but he’s looking to increase those numbers under Casey, who is implementing new schemes on offense and defense that could benefit Kennard’s skill set.
“(Casey and I) talked about a lot of different things," Kennard said. "One of the main things was shots we want to get. There’s a spectrum: our No. 1 priority is shots at the rim — we want to get as many lay-ups as we can — and we have the players to do that.
“That’s one of the main things I focused on in the offseason; being able to finish around the rim with different finishes in traffic in the trenches with the big guys. It can be tough.”
Kennard said that in Casey’s system, there will be a greater emphasis on corner 3-pointers and moving the ball around, making plays for others, and spacing the floor to get higher-percentage shots.
They’re looking to see how that fits in the Summer League, where assistant coach Sean Sweeney has the reins and is installing some of those principles. Kennard will have to wait on that himself, though, as the injury will relegate him to cheering for his teammates and not executing on the court.
“It’s really frustrating. I knew I hurt something when it happened. It’s frustrating, it really is,” Kennard said. “I was looking forward to trying different things and what the coaching staff talked to me about; I was really looking forward to showing them what I’m able to do.
“I’ve been working hard all summer and getting ready for this — and then this (injury) happened. It’s frustrating, but I’ll be all right. It’s nothing too serious.”
In the first part of his summer, Kennard said he got in the weight room and improved on his strength and absorbing contact on his drives to the rim. It’s a natural progression in his game, as teams will see the strength in his outside shooting, look to take away the 3-point shot and force him to put the ball on the court.
Adding more ball-handling responsibilities will be another wrinkle, which is one of the benefits of working under a new coaching staff with Casey at the helm. Casey has been lauded for his player development — and the Pistons could be reaping immediate benefits from that expertise in the young players.
At his introductory press conference, Casey highlighted Kennard, Henry Ellenson and Stanley Johnson — the Pistons’ last three first-round picks — as focal points for overall team improvement.
Although Kennard is relegated to the sidelines, he’s still looking to benefit from his time in the Summer League.
“It’s hard (to only be able to watch); I want to be in there. I love playing. I’ve been working hard all summer preparing for this and the season, but it’s frustrating and disappointing,” Kennard said. “I’ll get through it and it’ll be all right.”
Summer League schedule
The Pistons will play three preliminary-round games at the Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas, with at least two more games after that. Here are the prelims:
July 6: vs. Bucks (NBA TV)
July 7: vs. Grizzlies (NBA TV)
July 9: vs. Pelicans (ESPNU)