Luke Kennard sped toward the top of draft boards during a breakout sophomore season and will now continue his ride in the Motor City.
After forward Jayson Tatum was selected No. 3 by the Boston Celtics earlier Thursday night in the NBA Draft at the Barclays Center, Kennard became Duke’s eighth lottery pick since 2011, going to the Detroit Pistons at No. 12.
Kennard’s selection marks the close of a rapid ascent in his two-year Blue Devil career. Entering his sophomore season, Kennard was expected to play a diminished role in a crowded backcourt—merely earning playing time was Kennard’s more immediate concern, not leaving for the NBA.
But injuries to three freshmen for the first five weeks of the season forced him into action, and he made the most of the opportunity.
After a solid but unremarkable freshman campaign, Kennard catapulted his way to the first round, emerging as one of the nation’s most prolific scorers from the field and from 3-point range. The Blue Devils' most consistent player in a tumultuous season, Kennard ranked second in the ACC by shooting 43.8 percent from beyond the arc.
The Franklin, Ohio, native earned consensus second-team All-American honors and led Duke to the ACC tournament title in March, earning MVP honors after averaging 20.0 points per game in Brooklyn.
At the next level, Kennard, a merely average defender, will lean heavily on his offensive prowess, but some scouts have concerns about his athletic ability.
"There's some concerns about the lack of athleticism," a Western Conference scout told CBS Sports’ Reid Forgrave. "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."
Former Duke center and ESPN analyst Jay Bilas' opinion differs.
"Kennard is right-handed but he shoots left-handed," Bilas said to Forgrave. "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."
The Fit: Kennard in Detroit makes a lot of sense on paper as the Pistons are in danger of losing guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to restricted free agency. The former Blue Devil's ability to get hot from beyond the arc fits Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy’s perimeter-oriented style, and Kennard should help Detroit space the floor around center Andre Drummond.
But perhaps the best thing about Kennard on the Pistons is the team’s ability to cover the guard’s struggles on defense. Forward Stanley Johnson—who will enter this third year in the NBA—has the makings of a strong perimeter defender and should be able to take some of the pressure off Kennard. Considering the Pistons were bogged down on offense in the half-court frequently a year ago, Kennard could help ignite Detroit’s offense and lead the team back into the playoffs.