Luke Kennard Provides a Silver Lining for LA

The buzzer sounded in Paycom Center as the LA Clippers fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder for the second time. It was the second disappointing loss in just three days. For a team with championship aspirations, a 2-3 start is not what they or anyone else expected. Amidst the disappointment and lackluster play, Luke Kennard provides a silver lining for LA.

Luke Kennard Provides a Silver Lining for LA

After being acquired by the Detroit Pistons on draft night, Kennard inked an extension with the Clippers. Unfortunately for him, it was met with much criticism. Kennard was set for the next four years with the team with $64M. A contract that is comparable to a three-year starter, Marcus Morris. At the time of the news, Kennard was met with criticism, with many calling the contract an overpay. It was worse when Kennard found himself on the bench in many games the following year. But, in the 2021 playoffs, he started to prove his value. The season after, he showed even more promise. And in the brief five-game span, he is showing why his extension is a bargain.

Confidence on offense

Coming into the 2021-22 season, head coach Ty Lue made an effort to bring the aggressiveness out of Kennard. Consequently, Kennard was yanked whenever he passed up a shot in training camp. Lue understood Kennard’s value as an offensive threat. His floor spacing and ability to create with the ball in his hands give the Clippers another weapon off the bench. During that season, Kennard’s minutes rose as did the offensive sets ran for him. His accuracy and gravity were immediately noticed as the attention he garnered forced defenses to focus on him. Thus opening up other opportunities for the offense.

Last season, Kennard finished as one of the top three-point shooters in the league. This season, he started out scorching. He’s currently at 50% from deep on just above three attempts per game. But not only is his catch and shoot impressive. He is showing the ability to create with the ball in his hands. The Clippers have run numerous plays for Kennard to get him into pick-and-roll scenarios as both the ball-handler and the short roller. As a ball-handler, he is making the correct decision on when and how to attack or feed the roller. As the short roller, he is doing the same. Being patient with the ball, letting the defense make a decision, then countering their strategy. With Kennard now hunting not only shots but offensive opportunities, the team has another lethal weapon to unleash off the bench.

Improved defense

The main concern with Kennard is always his defense. It is the main reason why some thought (me included) that he would be left out of the rotation in lieu of Terance Mann. But we were so wrong. Of the eleven players that Lue gives meaningful minutes, Kennard leads in defensive rating at an impressive 98.7 mark. Just above two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Kawhi Leonard. Though Kennard lacks the athleticism and length that most great defenders have, he makes up for it in anticipation and IQ. Though, he is no slouch at 6’5″. He offers solid size in the shooting guard position.

During games this season, Kennard has done a great job at sliding his feet, kicking out, and anticipating where the offensive player will go next. Even if he gets beat, he doesn’t quit and continues to recover where the player has to decide to take it all the way and challenge Ivica Zubac or take a tough shot. Give credit to him for improving that end so it makes it even harder to take him out. And Lue has been rewarding him by at times including him in clutch lineups (cc: Lakers). If he keeps up this effort on defense, there’s no reason we can’t see him with the closing lineup more often.