With the new NBA season nearly upon us, we’re running our annual preseason player preview series. Next up, Luke Kennard, who fought through an inconsistent regular season role to become a key contributor during the Clips’ Western Conference Finals run.
Weight: 206 lbs.
Years in NBA: 4
Key Stats: 63 games, 8.3 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 47.6% FGs, 44.6% 3pt%.
Contract Status: Entering the first year of a four-year, $64 million extension he inked with the Clippers prior to last season. He’ll earn about $12.7 million this year. The deal includes a team option in the fourth and final season.
Kennard came to the Clippers last offseason in the three-way trade that landed Landry Shamet and Bruce Brown in Brooklyn, with Saddiq Bey and scraps going to Detroit. LAC almost instantly offered him that aforementioned extension, which became the source of some ridicule early in the season when he struggled to maintain a rotation spot.
He spent his first season in-and-out of Ty Lue’s rotation. Most of his major playing time would come whenever one of the primary wings or guards would miss games due to injury, and his defense is a weakness. It’s probably not ideal that he has already dealt with a number of knee problems despite being just 25, so it’s worth wondering how well he’s going to hold up physically over the course of his deal.
With Kawhi Leonard out for much of the year, Kennard will have a role as a secondary scoring option off the bench. He came up with some massive buckets for the Clippers once Kawhi went down in the Utah series, but his playing time was still spotty, at best. Kennard logged 20+ minutes just three times in the 13 postseason games in which he appeared.
Once trade season rolls around, we’ll probably hear plenty about Kennard’s contract. If the Clippers need to throw some salary into a deal in order to make something work, he and Eric Bledsoe are likely the first names that’ll come up.
The postseason emergence of Terance Mann likely won’t do much to help Kennard’s minutes early next season, and we’ll see where Bledsoe slots into the rotation. Lue has enough options to where he likely won’t need to rely too heavily on Kennard, which means he’s likely looking at a similar role to the one he had a season ago.
Shooting is obviously Kennard’s primary attribute, and it’s the main reason the Clippers were fine with handing him $64 million. He finished ninth in the league in three-point shooting (44.6%), albeit on just 3.6 attempts per game. It’s hard to get too many shots up when you aren’t even logging 20 minutes a night off the bench.
Kennard has also shown some off-the-dribble playmaking chops, which isn’t something you always see out of sharpshooting types. He’s at least capable of taking the ball to the basket and making things happen inside the arc. Kennard is a pretty fluid athlete, and he’s a guy that can pick up some of the scoring slack whenever the likes of Paul George or Reggie Jackson are in the midst of rough shooting nights.
Despite his decent overall offensive skill set, the Clippers really just need him to space the floor and knock down the open shots he gets. The fact that he likely won’t need to play a huge role next season is a testament to their depth on the wings.
The main reason Kennard struggled to lock down a steady role last season was his lackluster showing on the defensive end. That weakness was exacerbated in Game 1 of the Utah series, when Lue needed to keep him on the court for his offense with Kawhi and George struggling to score.
Kennard scored 19 points in that game, but Donovan Mitchell put him in the toaster at the other end of the floor. Mitchell bagged 45 points, many of which came at Kennard’s expense, on his way to lead the Jazz to a win in that one.
Kennard is athletic and rangy enough to profile as a fine defender, but lateral quickness isn’t really his strong suit. The Clippers have to try and hide him on that end of the floor whenever he’s out there, which is awfully difficult to do with guards in this day and age. The Jazz and Suns were more than happy to exploit him while he was out there in the playoffs, and there’s a reason he only appeared in three of the seven games against Dallas in the first round.
Kennard also isn’t much of a presence on the glass, averaging a whopping 2.7 rebounds per game in his career.
The Clippers would presumably have no qualms about trading Kennard if the right deal came along. Paying him $12-$14 million a year is hardly devastating to their cap situation, but it sure would be nice to get more out of that investment moving forward.
This will be Kennard’s fifth year in the league. Improvement isn’t impossible, of course, but he probably is what he is at this point. Maybe he’ll look more comfortable entering his second year with the Clippers, but I won’t be holding my breath. In the end, he’s an excellent shooter that likely shouldn’t be playing much more than 20 minutes a night because of his other shortcomings.
It’s a big year for both Kennard and the Clippers. They don’t necessarily need him to play a Lou Williams role with Reggie and Bledsoe both on the roster, but anything he can give them other than consistent spot-up shooting will be a bonus.