Pistons' Kennard showing more of a 'killer mentality'
Milwaukee — It’s starting to come back, in small flashes, a play here and a play there. The flashes are starting to string together a bit more, but still not to the point that the Pistons are solving their offensive woes.
Luke Kennard had the many facets of his game on display against the Orlando Magic on Sunday. It was a tantalizing display of what could be, if he does it consistently and fluidly — and more importantly, more often.
In the second quarter, Kennard got open on a screen from Zaza Pachulia, rolled to the rim and took the perfect pass for an easy lay-in. A couple minutes later, Kennard used a screen from Pachulia, stepped back to the 3-point line and all in one motion, received the return pass and hit a 3-pointer.
Later, he dribbled inside and connected on an off-balance runner — with his right (non-shooting) hand. Kennard was composed and showed his ball-handling skills as well as his patience.
“What we’re looking for, what he has to do, what he can do — and what he has the green light to do — is play basketball,” coach Dwane Casey said. “Don’t go and float and wait for something to happen — go make it happen. He’s done a good job of that in the last couple games.”
Kennard said he’s taken stock of his play, paying attention to his tendencies and has tried to sharpen his shooting to get to the open looks faster and not hesitate on taking what Casey has called “green-light” shots.
“I’ve watched a lot of film over the last few games and that’s the main thing I’ve been focusing on — not being ready to shoot and taking shots that I should be taking that I haven’t been,” Kennard said. “Being aggressive and having a little killer mentality to get to certain spots and get shots up. I’ve been working on it and it has to continue.”
After not seeing any playing time against the Wizards on Thursday, Kennard returned with 14 points against the Pacers and 16 versus the Magic, shooting 12-for-19 (63 percent) from the field and 4-for-9 (44 percent) on 3-pointers. It’s a small sample size, but besides his career-best 28 points against the 76ers on Dec. 10, those are his most points in a game this season.
Casey was concerned with Kennard’s aggressiveness in seeking out good shots and passing up ones that he should be taking. When Kennard was moved to the starting lineup, he had his breakout performance, but the next six games saw him score only 24 total points while shooting at a 28-percent clip (9-for-32).
That led to him falling out of the rotation for a game.
“It’s a mindset. When he’s playing, a lot of times, we have two or three starters in there,” Casey said. “It’s nothing different; he has to have the same mindset, no matter who’s on the floor: be aggressive, run the floor, play hard and not just go and stand in the corner.
“That was my charge to him: if he can’t do that, we might as well have somebody else out there. Luke has too much talent offensively to do that and he understands that, and he sees the difference now.”
Kennard seemed to find his mojo after that, using screens better and taking advantage of the space that defenders were giving him on screens.
“It’s not really anything I’m doing different. I’m continuing to be aggressive but the way our bigs were screening was unbelievable,” Kennard said Sunday. “If they screen like that, we can be a really dangerous offensive team.
“They’re capable of it every single night and we tell them that. they create a lot of offense for us just by screening. They might not get the ball, but they know if we score and they set a good screen, they should get a point.”
The chemistry is there with Pachulia, but if Kennard is going to rejoin the starting group, he’s going to have to develop that same timing and rhythm with Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. He’s taking some cues from Reggie Bullock, who has found success in hitting open shots and melding with the starters.
Kennard’s progression will be turning that study into plays on the court that can give Casey more confidence.
“I’m learning a lot from Reggie this year. I watch film on him — he might not know that — and the shots he’s taking,” Kennard said. “That’s what the coaches want me to do and keep that in the back of my head.”
Pistons at Grizzlies
Tip-off: 8 p.m. Wednesday, FedExForum, Memphis, Tenn.
TV/radio: FSD-Plus/950 or 104.3
Outlook: The Pistons finish their four-game road trip with a back-to-back. They’re 1-2 in the second game of a back-to-back with both losses coming on the road. The Grizzlies (18-18) have lost nine of their last 12.