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Rising Star: Luke Kennard

Duke’s sophomore guard has improved far beyond what anyone expected.

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Appalachian State v Duke
Luke Kennard drives against Appalachian State
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Here’s a nice article about Luke Kennard’s offensive performance this season and what a revelation he’s been.

Remember that at the beginning of the year a lot of people, including us, weren’t sure exactly what his role would be.

No one doubted his abilities, but we’re not sure many people thought he’d be this good this fast.

What’s impressed us most isn’t necessarily his shooting ability although he clearly can shoot.

He’s moved from 42.1% last year to 52% this year and his three point shooting has gone from 32% (and erratic) to 40.9% (and very reliable). Free throw shooting is essentially the same.

Rebounding has basically doubled however as have assists.

What we have really enjoyed about his game this year is his overall sophistication. Yes he can shoot, but he also tries to get closer to the basket and he can get his shot off over most players. He’s also turned out to be a heck of a passer.

He also has a knack that’s hard to explain but easy to see once you understand it: he moves as well in a confined space as anyone we’ve seen in a long time.

What we mean is that when he’s tightly defended or in a crowd in the lane, he knows exactly where everything is. He knows where the defenders are and how much room he has to get his shot off and he knows where his body is in relationship to the angles he would need to either shoot or pass.

Think about this: when is the last time you can remember seeing Kennard get blocked?

What we mean is that when he’s thinking about shooting, we believe he intuits the arc even when his hand is under the ball. So he can arrange his body around the parabola rather than waiting to set up the whole business more mechanically. Fundamentals are incredibly important, but there are times, and players who, after mastering them, can disregard them on occasion.

Bill Russell told a story once about defending Oscar Robertson which kind of illustrates this.

He said that they both knew that past a certain point Russell couldn’t hope to defend him and beyond that point Robertson couldn’t hope to score on Russell.

So one game they were right on that line, Russell not willing to come out and Robertson unwilling to drive. They were essentially staring each other down, daring one another to move...until Robertson flicked up a shot while he was in his three point stance.


No legs.

It’s kind of a similar thing. Larry Bird could do it too. He could shoot falling out of bounds and drop it over the backboard and swish it - either hand.

If he had done it backwards no one would have been surprised.

We’re not comparing Kennard to Robertson or Bird, but we do think he has some of that same sense of where everything is and we think it allows him to operate in a way that few players can.

It’s an uncommon gift. As great as JJ Redick was, he couldn’t really do that. Christian Laettner was an incredible talent but we’re not sure he could do it either.

We hadn’t really thought about it until just now, but one guy who probably does have it is former UNC guard Marcus Paige. The best illustration was that incredible shot he hit last spring in the final seconds of the NCAA championship game. That was one of the great clutch shots of all time, which, unfortunately for Paige and UNC, was topped by an ever greater one just a few seconds later.

Another guy to think about in this regard? Manu Ginobli.

2016-17 DUKE 35.5 7.0-13.5 .520 2.5-6.0 .409 3.5-4.0 .886 6.1 3.3 0.4 1.2 1.8 1.5 20.0
2015-16 DUKE 26.7 3.9-9.3 .421 1.5-4.8 .320 2.4-2.8 .889 3.6 1.5 0.2 0.9 1.9 0.8 11.8

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