Luke Kennard, a name that brings one thing to mind for college basketball fans, Duke. Duke players have a certain reputation, and it’s almost always negative. (Not Jabari though, we love you.) Duke is so hated that articles like this exist. Other names listed include the likes of Steve Wojciechowski (I’m sorry Wojo, but you did slap the court a lot), Jay Williams, every single Plumlee, and so on. Kennard is lumped in with all of them because he put on that blue and white jersey. You know what he has in common with all of those players, though? He was really good. Kennard was born in Middletown, Ohio and he lit the gym on fire for Franklin High School. He finished as Ohio’s second all-time leading scorer, three spots ahead of LeBron. Racking up accolades like Ohio’s Mr. Basketball in 2014 and 2015, a McDonald’s All-American, and 2015 Parade National Player of the Year. Kennard would then leave Middleton to go to Durham, North Carolina.
From his freshman to sophomore season, Kennard saw a meteoric rise in his draft stock. As a freshman Kennard played in all 36 games, averaging 11.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.5 assists on the campaign. A really nice freshman season garnered some draft buzz for the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Then 2016-2017 happened. Kennard was a consensus second team All-American, finalist for the Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year, and the only unanimous All-ACC selection. The most important thing about those accolades is that he absolutely had to acquire them for Duke to be any good last season. Without Kennard, Duke would have been a major disappointment with the injuries and suspensions they racked up. Kennard was the guy that held the team together. He averaged a team leading 19.5 points, with 5.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists on 35 minutes per game. Luke Kennard put the team on his back and made a team that was dead in the water a championship threat.
Kennard is an absolute treat to watch on the offensive side of things. He’s an extremely fluid, knowledgeable, and downright dangerous option with the basketball. It’s very hard to find a flaw in his offensive game. Kennard brings one of the best shots in college basketball, whether it be on a catch and shoot, coming off screens, or creating his own. He’s a solid athlete who finds ways to finish at the rim with either hand, and he has good vision with the ball, limiting turnovers. For teams in the late lottery and middle of the first round that need an offensive spark, this is the guy that they will all have their eyes on. The aforementioned leadership qualities and ability to carry a whole team is something that scouts and GMs will also take note of.
As good as his offensive game is, his defensive side is lacking. While he has the size for a 2 guard at 6’6,” the length and athleticism don’t really show up on defense. He’s a good enough athlete, but when he’ll be competing against NBA wings he’ll be left in the dust. Kennard is going to need to be surrounded by players that can make up for his mistakes and inabilities on the defensive side. The only knock on his offensive game is that he’s not as explosive as one would like, while he can finish at the rim it won’t often be pretty. For a player with such a terrific regular season, it’s fair to wonder what happened to his game in the spotlight during the tournament when the number two seeded Blue Devils were bounced in the Round of 32 by South Carolina.
First Year Expectations and Fit
First year expectations for someone like Kennard would be like any other late lottery, middle of the pack pick. You just need to see them grow. The NBA draft is very hit or miss. Unlike the NFL draft, it’s not likely that a lot of first round picks will be anyone in the NBA, maybe just a handful. With the NBA draft it’s all about what tools do you have, and how will they translate? For someone like Kennard, he has the one thing that every team needs, a three point shot, and maybe the best one in the draft. With John Hammond’s statements about shooting in this article from ESPN, it’s clear that Kennard could be on the radar. With the Bucks possibly losing Jason Terry and Tony Snell, a restricted free agent, Milwaukee will have to make sure that they add a player who can knock down deep shots. Kennard wouldn’t bring anything defensively to Milwaukee, but the Bucks have enough good defensive players to surround him with that you hope his flaws can be hidden. Maybe being surrounded by these players, and with Jason Kidd’s help, it could improve.
Probably the safest expectations for Luke Kennard are that he can be a Rodney Hood kind of player. 12-14 points per game, 37% three point shooter, good playmaker, and doesn’t play a lot of defense. There’s no shame in that at all, every team needs that guy. How about this for a comparison if he blows away expectations? Michael Redd. Maybe it’s just the lefty shot that’s so mesmerizing, but it’s there. Bucks fans know it, but during his peak Redd was one of the most underrated players in the NBA and he was a nightmare for defenses. Neither are defensive specialists by any means, but if Kennard’s offensive tools come together in the NBA the Duke product could be that same type of nightmare.