The 2017 NBA draft is hard to swallow for Detroit Piston fans. Their first round selection, Luke Kennard, will have his entire NBA career overshadowed by the fact that Donovan Mitchell was selected one pick later. Mitchell is a sure-fire thing to be a superstar, so it stings when you consider the lack of young star-power in Detroit since Grant Hill. However, this was Stan Van Gundy’s smallest draft pick blunder. Remember, that’s not saying much when you consider that he picked Stanley Johnson over Devin Booker and picked Henry Ellenson at all. Van Gundy was a decent coach in his time in Detroit, but he was a poor talent evaluator who wore too many hats (sorry Minnesota Timberwolves fans.)
Kennard, once you look past the fact that he isn’t Donovan Mitchell, was actually a good pick. It’s worth mentioning a dozen other teams overlooked Mitchell during the 2017 draft too. Unfortunately, Luke didn’t always get the playing time to show his worth. For stretches of the 2017-2018 season, the sweet-shooter from Duke barely got to see the pine. That is all SVG’s fault. In the 16 games immediately following the Blake Griffin trade which involved sending wings Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris to Los Angeles, Luke played less than 13 minutes per game. So after removing two players ahead of him on the perimeter depth chart, Van Gundy decided to play him less than he did prior to the trade. Good riddance, Stan.
In the limited minutes Kennard did play, he showed a lot of promise. He shot an impressive 42% from three-point range during his rookie season, including 46% on wide-open threes (more than 6 feet of space.) Luke also showed promising play-making abilities as a secondary ball handler, which will prove to be crucial for the second unit. He wasn’t lost on defense either, which is promising for a rookie. Luke was credited for 2.1 defensive win shares last season, good for tenth among first-year players.
I wager coach Dwane Casey will bring out the best in Kennard. Casey is known as a strong player-development coach. He brought out the best in his second unit last season with the Toronto Raptors. Aside from veteran CJ Miles, the lineup consisted of all young prospects that flourished as the best bench in the league during the 2017-2018 regular season. Casey also successfully started rookie OG Anunoby for the 59-win Raptors. I’m not wild about Casey as the SVG replacement, but I am excited to see what he can do for Kennard, rookies Bruce Brown and Khyri Thomas, and Detroit’s underwhelming 2015 and 2016 first round draft picks. I think he will undoubtedly play Luke more than Van Gundy did. He’d better, at least.
I wouldn’t get your hopes up about Stanley at this point, and frankly it’s too early to say if the rookies will have any impact or not. Just stop thinking about Ellenson as anything meaningful, even if he is the gulp back-up power forward as of today. As for Kennard, he could prove to be very solid sixth-man this season. So SVG redeemed himself a little by picking Luke after botching 2015 and 2016.