After injury, Luke Kennard is in the ‘best shape’ of his career, playing more point guard

Detroit Free Press

Omari Sankofa II
| Detroit Free Press

Luke Kennard was eager to get back on the court for five-on-five action this week. After having his 2019-20 season cut short by injury, the Detroit Pistons’ group workouts have given him his first opportunity to test his body in months.

So far, so good. Kennard said he hasn’t suffered any setbacks. Bilateral knee tendonitis ended Kennard’s season after just 28 games, but he has been healthy since March. As he prepares for his fourth season, he’s optimistic he’ll stay setback-free.

“So far I’ve had no issues with anything,” Kennard told reporters Thursday evening. “I felt great. My body is, I’m probably in the best shape and the strongest I’ve been in my playing career. It’s been a good first couple days, I can say that. Just continuing to work these next couple of weeks is going to be huge for me, just to see how I respond to everything going on.” 

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Kennard is among the 15 Detroit Pistons and Grand Rapids Drive players participating in group workouts — a program the NBA devised so that nonbubble teams could safely return to the court and hold full practices and scrimmages since the season was postponed on March 11. Prior to this week, players were limited to restricted one-on-one workouts. 

Head coach Dwane Casey wanted all of his young players to attend the workouts, but Kennard is almost a veteran and, after just three years, he’s the longest-tenured player on the roster. 

His role continues to evolve, however. He took on a larger playmaking role last season and thrived, improving his assist percentage from 12.4% in 2018-19 to 18.4% while keeping his turnovers low. This week, Casey has been utilizing him as a point guard — a position Kennard hasn’t played in live NBA action yet. 

Part of it is out of necessity. Two-way guard Jordan Bone is the only true point guard in the workouts. Bruce Brown, who spent extended time at point guard last season but will likely play more minutes at the wing positions next season, is also in the camp. Kennard is the de facto third point guard on the workout roster. 

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But it’s also a testament to Kennard’s growth as a player and comfort with the ball in his hands. Wings who can both shoot and create for himself and others come at a premium in the NBA, and Kennard is capable of both. 

“It’s going really well,” Kennard said. “I feel comfortable with it, I feel comfortable with the ball and making decisions off of that, playing pick and roll, finding the open guy. It’s obviously something I need to continue to work on, but so far it’s been good and I think we can have different scenarios, different situations and different guys on the floor at different times to go about those types of situations.” 

Last season, Kennard’s first as a full-time starter, was the best statistical season of Kennard’s career. The Pistons want to compete next season, and Kennard, who is entering a contract year, has every incentive to show how much he’s improved as a playmaker. He’s excited for the vision that general manager Troy Weaver has expressed to his players. 

“As soon as he got here, that’s one of the first things he told us is ‘We don’t need to start from the beginning. We’ve got some really good veterans, we have some good, young, talented players that we can just build off of and continue to grow and work to get better,’” Kennard said. “It was exciting to hear that knowing he trusts in us, he trusts in our coaches, and we trust in him.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

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