Our review of the Clippers 2023 season continues with an examination of departed guard Luke Kennard.
Weight: 205 pounds
Position: Shooting Guard
Age: 26 (turns 27 in a month)
Years in NBA: 6
Key Stats (for Clippers): 7.8 points, 1.1 assists, 2.4 rebounds, 0.5 steals, and 0.9 turnovers in 20.7 minutes per game across 35 games played (11 starts) on 46.4/44.7/95 (0.6 FTA attempts) shooting splits (62.3 True Shooting)
It was honestly a bit of a surprise that Luke Kennard was even on the Clippers’ roster when the 2023 season began. After the signing of John Wall, it was readily apparent to anyone that the Clippers’ roster was long on guards and short on big men and true wings. A consolidation trade seemed in the offing, with Luke Kennard as a likely candidate to be moved due to his mid-range deal capable of matching with lots of salaries, his age squarely in his prime, and his shooting being a valuable commodity. However, no such deal happened, and the Clippers started 2023 with Wall, Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Norm Powell, Terance Mann, and Paul George all on the roster (not even counting Jason Preston, Brandon Boston Jr., and Amir Coffey).
With all of those guards on the roster, it seemed very likely that one of them would be out of the rotation. Before the season, Luke unfortunately seemed like the most probable candidate to be on the outside looking in due to the fact that Norm Powell offered very good shooting (albeit not as good as Kennard) with a lot more creation and scoring juice. Therefore, most people thought Luke would be a fringe rotation player, liable for only low minutes loads and maybe an increased share when other guards were out with injury or load management. When Luke was to play, everyone knew he would be a deadly shooter from three, offer below-average but not awful defense, and some occasional ballhandling and playmaking chops.
Most of that did not come to pass. Luke started out the season firmly in the rotation, with Terance Mann the guard left out. As the season went along, somehow, Ty Lue found a way to play all of his guards, mostly in horrific four-guard bench units with Kennard, Powell, Wall, and Mann together. Most of those guys weren’t playing too well, and then Luke sat for a couple weeks from mid-November to early-December due to injury.
When he returned, the four-guard lineups continued. Luke remained firmly in the rotation, and had his best stretch of the season from December 10 to December 26, as he cracked double-digits scoring in six of the seven games he played in during that stretch, with all six being Clippers victories. Unfortunately, Luke followed that up with a couple of zero-point games, had a few more quiet outings, and then was out for two more weeks in January with injury.
By the time Luke came back in late January, Ty Lue had shaken his rotations up, as the team was in full-on struggle mode. Unfortunately, Luke’s return did not enhance his play, as he remained passive on offense and unusually cold from the field. Finally, Lue had enough, and removed Luke from the rotation for the first two games in February. Luke then played a handful of minutes in the next two, but that was that, and he was traded to the Grizzlies at the trade deadline on February 9. Sadly, he played just six minutes in his final Clippers game against the Mavs, and was scoreless.
Like many Clippers, Luke Kennard had a disappointing season. While his three-point shooting remained lights out, his defense declined over the course of the year and his production was down. Per 100 possessions, Luke’s scoring, rebounding, and assists were all down from not just his 2022 campaign, but his 2021 season as well. Additionally, he averaged fewer threes and free throws attempted per 100 possessions, instead taking more of his shots from the 3-10 foot range. It wasn’t an awful season, but it was a step back, and not one the Clippers could afford.
However, as mentioned in both Reggie and Wall’s exit interviews, it’s hard to blame Kennard, who was consistently placed in those aforementioned guard-heavy lineups with limited rebounding, defense, or cohesion. Yes, he was far too passive, a constant issue in his Clippers’ tenure. Yes, he offered very little on the glass. But he was also not placed in ideal situations as a 4th or 5th option playing off stars as a movement shooter, and like so many other Clippers’ players suffered from poor roster construction and rotations.
Future with Clippers
Luke Kennard is signed for two more years, and while he’s not a cornerstone for the Grizzlies, his shooting and the spacing he provided proved invaluable for them. Therefore, I’d expect him to remain on the Grizzlies for a bit. There’s a lot of love for Kennard in the Clippers’ front office and fanbase, so a reunion at some point would not be shocking, but I can’t see it happening anytime in the near future. Hopefully Luke continues to play well and earns himself another bag in a couple years, whether for the Grizzlies or another team.