2017 NBA Draft: Duke's Luke Kennard could end up better than Kyle Korver
Kennard's not just a deadly outside shooter
When you hear about the NBA prospects of Luke Kennard, Duke's sophomore shooting guard who may be the top 3-point shooter available in this week's NBA Draft, you tend to hear the same tired things you usually hear about a white guy who can really gun it.
"There's some concerns about the lack of athleticism," one scout from a Western Conference team told me. "He has good size, but he's not physically gifted. He compensates in other ways with his IQ, his knack for the game and just putting the ball in the basket."
"He's going to be a specialist," one front office executive from an Eastern Conference team told me. "He can't really handle the ball, but he can shoot the ball at a great clip."
OK, sure, whatever. You think Kennard is a player you can put in a box? Go for it. Think his ceiling is Kyle Korver in a Duke uniform? Fine. Go ahead and sleep on him. But I'm telling you here what I've been saying for months: Kennard could be the steal of this NBA Draft.
Instead of focusing on every cliché about the "lack of athleticism" from this "white guy from Duke" that's made up for with a "high basketball IQ" but that he "won't be able to defend NBA wings," I'd rather focus on something ESPN's Jay Bilas told me during this season, when Kennard was the only reliable player on a then-floundering Duke team.
"When I was growing up, an athlete was someone who could a lot of things," Bilas said. "It didn't just mean you could run and jump. That's what athlete is reduced to these days."
Kennard, Bilas was saying, is a player with an array of athletic talents. No, he can't run like John Wall, and he can't jump like Andrew Wiggins. But he's quick and smart and strong with the ball and, actually, a pretty damn good athlete. (Don't forget Kennard was measured with a 38.5 inch max vertical jump at his pro day; that's only two inches less than what Louisville's Donovan Mitchell recorded at the NBA Draft Combine, and Mitchell is considered one of the best "athletes" in this draft.)
"Kennard is right-handed but he shoots left-handed," Bilas told me. "He was an all-state quarterback in high school. He has just a ridiculous ability level as an athlete. He might not be able to outrun De'Aaron Fox but he can compete with anyone."
This plus his season-long consistency for an up-and-down Duke team led to some eye-popping stats his sophomore season. Going into the season, he was expected to be a sixth-man type player for a hugely talented Duke team. Instead, he was their rock, averaging 19.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists. He shot 43.8 percent from 3-point range while rarely missing free throws and rarely turning the ball over.
All this adds up to what I'm saying about Kennard as the steal of this draft. Yes, he can shoot it from deep. He can also drive and finish with either hand, and he can spin, and he can go up and under effectively at the rim. His is one of the most versatile offensive games in this draft. I have Kennard going to the Hornets at No. 11 inand my CBSSports.com colleague Gary Parrish has him going 10th to the Kings in his , but Kennard has a chance to thrill the fan base of whichever team selects him.
Do I think Kennard could become Korver? Sure. And that would be OK. But that would also be somewhere near his floor as an NBA player. I also think he could become something much better. His career arc could end up looking like fellow Duke product J.J. Redick, a player who'd been pigeonholed in the much same way as Kennard – not athletic, just a 3-point specialist, a white guard from Duke – but has blossomed into an able shot creator all over the court in addition to becoming one of the best 3-point shooters in NBA history.
We like to put clichés on players we stereotyped as try-hards who may not be the most talented players on earth. Those clichés are true for Kennard. He's a hard worker; Kennard worked his butt off between his freshman and sophomore year, and there was no more improved player in college basketball last season than Kennard. His shot fakes are top-notch. His footwork is enviable. He's the type of guy who, when I went to a couple games at Cameron this winter, dove into the stands twice in the span of one minute as he chased loose balls.
"If he's on a good team, he'll be terrific," one Eastern Conference executive whose team is not selecting in the lottery told me. That same executive called Kennard a "guard Chris Mullin."
I couldn't agree more. If you're a team that's full of needs – like the Kings, or the Knicks, or the Magic – Kennard won't fit. I don't see him as a franchise cornerstone. But if you're a franchise that has already established momentum and an identity and is in need of the right piece – a team like the Thunder, or the Timberwolves, or the Bucks – Kennard could flourish immediately. (For what it's worth, I believe Kennard would have been the perfect addition for this year's Cavaliers, but they do not have a first-round pick in this draft.) That's what you'll get with Kennard: He'll impact a team immediately, and he'll keep getting better with time.
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