Last season, Los Angeles Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue kept imploring Luke Kennard to be more aggressive in looking for his shot.
His sentiments were echoed by Kennard’s teammates throughout the season. A newcomer to the team after spending his first three seasons with the Detroit Pistons, Kennard often looked timid for the majority of the season.
With the Pistons, he had developed a reputation as being a sniper from three-point range. He shot 39 percent or better from distance in each of his three years. But he had also begun to develop a playmaking game. Before he was traded to the Clippers a year ago, Detroit head coach Dwane Casey had been experimenting with Kennard in a facilitator role.
But when he arrived in LA, he seemed a little too eager to settle into that playmaking role and he often passed up shots that he probably should have taken. It can be an adjustment for players to figure out their role in a new system, and perhaps that was the case for Kennard. Maybe he just needed a little bit of prodding from his new coach and teammates.
Whatever the case was, however, the playoffs changed all of that. With the Clippers being pushed to the brink by the Dallas Mavericks in the first round, they found themselves in a Game 7. And it was Kennard who stepped up to the plate and helped power them into the second round.
After racking up four DNP’s through the first six games of the series, Kennard scored 11 points on 4-6 shooting, 3-5 from three-point range, in 14 minutes of play as the Clippers ended up winning by 15 to advance. He looked comfortable and confident in his shot.
That momentum carried over throughout the rest of the 2021 playoffs. Against both the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns, Kennard made decisive decisions and found a good balance between finding his teammates and finding his shot. That’s the Kennard the Clippers are going to need this season, and it’s the Kennard that has shown up so far in preseason.
While he’s definitely found a comfort level within the Clippers offense, he acknowledges that at times, the team is still on him about looking to shoot.
“I’m still getting some stuff on the sideline for not shooting some shots that I probably should have shot,” Kennard joked after the Clippers preseason win against Dallas on Oct. 8. “They want me to ‘hunt’ it. . .just to hunt shots and be a hunter, that’s what they’ve been saying.”
Overall, Kennard had a pretty solid season last year for the Clippers. He put up 8.3 points per game while shooting 47.6 percent from the field and 44.6 percent from three-point range. In the playoffs, those numbers dipped a little, but as mentioned, he looked far more comfortable.
This season, the Clippers are looking to get up and down a little bit more and to generate more transition scoring opportunities. Kennard figures to be a big part of that with his ability to handle the ball and see the court, and with his lights out shooting. During preseason, he’s seen time in both roles.
“They’re putting me in a lot of different actions, whether it’s for me or different guys, just to move. They want us to move, they want us to play with a little more pace this year,” Kennard said. “We want to play a little faster whether it’s kicking the ball ahead, being a little bit better transition team. It’s coming along.”
Overall, this Clippers team has multiple players who can make plays with the ball in their hands. When Kennard is on the floor with the second unit, he kind of becomes the de-facto ball-handler as he did at times last season. But when his minutes are staggered with the starters a bit, it allows him to really look to move off-ball and to free himself up for jumpers.
“We got guys that can make plays. I can get into the paint and attack well and hit the open guy, but for me they just want me to hunt,” Kennard said. “When teams are kind of chasing me over, it kind of allows me to put the ball on the floor a little bit more and either hit the roll or just find the open guy. That’s something I’ve picked up on over these last few games.”
Kennard actually got off to a bit of a slow start to the preseason. He shot a combined 31.7 percent from the field through the first two games and was 1-9 from three-point range. But he picked it up in the final two games averaging 18.5 points per game and shooting 63.8 percent from long range.
Sure the Clippers ended the preseason with losses, but there were plenty of positives that Kennard saw that he believes the team can take with them into the start of the regular season. It’s the work that they’ve done in training camp, in practice, that they’ll be able to translate to opening night.
“We have sets that we run, but out of those sets, Coach Lue just lets us play the game. That’s something we’ve been focused on,” Kennard said. “It’s still a learning process, we’re still getting better at it. But I think we’ve done a pretty good job of doing the things in games that we’ve worked on in training camp so far.”
For the most part, the Clippers will have a similar rotation to the one that knocked out the Jazz and pushed the Suns to six games. Kawhi Leonard has no timetable for his return, but Serge Ibaka should be close to returning to the lineup.
They will have a pair of newcomers though who figure to play key roles in former Clipper Eric Bledsoe and Justice Winslow. There’s also the new draft picks in Keon Johson and Brandon Boston Jr. who have both shown some flashes in the preseason. Fellow rookie Jason Preston might have been in the mix too but he is currently out with an injury.
As the start of the season draws near, Kennard is pleased with what he’s seen in terms of how everyone is fitting into the system.
“I think everybody is comfortable in the role that they’re in, everybody’s comfortable with where they are right now. We’re confident that our coaches and everybody on the team, they’re going to do what’s best for the team,” Kennard said. “When we’re out there together, we’re one team. . .I think we have a pretty solid foundation with what we’ve been doing right now and it’s just continuing to get comfortable with each other and learning all the new guys. So far it’s been really good.”
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