Healthy Luke Kennard a bright spot in Pistons minicamp

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News

By every stretch of Dwane Casey’s imagination, his team’s workouts during phase 2 of in-market minicamp, has been a rousing success.

But the biggest positive for the Detroit Pistons head coach has been what he’s getting out of 24-year-old shooting guard Luke Kennard, who’s taking part in his first basketball activities since Dec. 21, when the former first-round pick was sidelined with bilateral knee tendonitis.

“He’s healthy, he’s playing well, his body looks good, and that’s been another bright spot,” Casey told reporters on Saturday. “I really like what I see out of Luke.”

Luke Kennard

Aside from being happy about the status of Kennard’s health, Casey has also been pleasantly surprised by the former Duke superstar’s ability to take on new roles. 

With star power forward Blake Griffin and point guard Derrick Rose opting out of the workouts, Kennard has been put in a position to be a leader, both in the locker room and in the offense. Rose’s absence also means that Detroit is a bit short of options at point guard, allowing for Kennard to work on expanding his role even further.

Sure, part of the reason for Kennard playing at the 1 is “necessity,” Casey noted, but the third-year Pistons coach is also excited by the prospect of expanding the number of players that can handle the ball.

“If you watch all the playoff games, they all have multiple ballhandlers,” Casey said. “And that’s what this is doing for Luke, is giving him the experience of bringing the ball down the floor. He’s already an excellent pick-and-roll player, so this is giving him the opportunity to bring it down against pressure, create plays for other guys.”

And based on what he’s seen so far, it seems that the experiment will become the standard come the regular season.

“Once we get ready to roll, he’s probably going to be the second or third ballhandler on our team, once we get everyone in place.” 

Kennard told reporters last Thursday that he knows he has “to be more of a leader this year.” He is, after all, the longest-tenured Pistons player on the roster, and was on pace to set career-high averages in points (15.8) assists (4.1) and rebounds (3.5) through 28 games, before the tendonitis issue cut his season short.

But that’s also what you’d expect someone in his position to say, so the feedback from his coach inspires just a little more confidence in that situation playing out in the Pistons’ favor.

“Luke has kind of taken that mental piece of leadership in the void of Derrick and Blake,” Casey said. “That’s huge, and that’s another area we were looking to prove and try to find in this camp.”

The Pistons have not been together for organized scrimmages and full practices since their season ended on March 11. Casey said that he has a hard time finding anybody who didn’t meet expectations, who didn’t show up in shape, who wasn’t ready to compete. 

“Guys are competing hard, diving on the floor, taking charges,” Casey said. “I’m just shocked at how good of shape guys are in after six or seven months.”

Thon Maker and G-Leaguer Louis King, specifically, have impressed their head coach with their physical condition.

“I don’t know if Thon’s ever going to be Andre Drummond, but he’s gotten stronger, he’s gotten bigger,” Casey said.