There’s not much of a better way to enter a three-point contest
at NBA All-Star Weekend than by canning eight triples to put a bow
on the first half of your season in winning fashion, and Los
Angeles Clippers sharpshooter Luke Kennard did just that.
Better yet, Kennard carried that momentum into a first-round
high score of 28 in the competition, making it into the top-three.
Unfortunately, Karl-Anthony Towns shocked the world and oddsmakers
with a blistering 29 to defeat Kennard and Trae Young’s 26 for the
shooting crown, but there was a silver lining.
About three hours northeast of his hometown of Middletown,
Kennard’s family and friends were watching it all happen live at
Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in downtown Cleveland.
“It means everything, man. Just being from Ohio, hearing that
the All-Star Game was gonna be back in Ohio, I wanted to be here so
getting the invite meant a lot,” Kennard told BasketballNews.com at
Mountain Dew and Ruffles’ The Block event prior to All-Star
“I had a lot of family and friends come in. Just to be around
the city, I know a couple that [weren't able] to be there and said
ticket [prices] were crazy. Just being around the city and enjoying
the experience, it means a lot. The goal is to represent Clipper
Nation. Just have fun with it, enjoy the weekend."
A super standout at Franklin High School from 2011 to 2015,
Kennard’s claim to fame — at the time and still to this day — was
surpassing LeBron James’ career
scoring record at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s. In his four seasons
with the Wildcats, Kennard recorded a total of 2,977 points to
LeBron’s 2,646 with the Irish. (He currently sits second in Ohio
high school history behind former Ohio State sniper Jon Diebler,
and holds the record for the most made free throws in a career with
So in addition to having familiar faces in the audience cheering
him on, sharing the festivities with another Ohio high school
legend in LeBron at an All-Star weekend in their home state was
“awesome” for the 25-year-old.
“He's done so much for the state of Ohio, especially where he
came from and his city [of Akron]. It's really cool,” Kennard said
of James. “He's a Northern Ohio-ish kinda guy, I'm Southern Ohio,
so together we've done a lot. Ohio means everything to us. It's
where we're from. We never forget where we came from, so it's
pretty special. And to be back here together, enjoying this
weekend, it's a lot of fun."
After topping that sort of record held by The King, it’s no
wonder that Duke University came calling. Kennard spent two years
playing for the Blue Devils, finding his footing as a sophomore and
serving as the team’s top option alongside Jayson Tatum, Grayson
Allen and Frank Jackson. He averaged 19.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and
2.5 assists per game that season, playing with more efficiency and
comfortability than he did as a freshman.
Having learned under the tutelage of the legendary Mike
Krzyzewski in Durham, NC, Kennard believes he owes a debt of
gratitude to the soon-to-be retiree, and notes that Coach K stays
in contact with him almost daily.
“He meant a lot [to my career]. Coach, he gave me an opportunity
to play at the best university in the world, play for the best
coach to ever coach the game," Kennard said. "It was a lot of fun.
I mean without going there, [there's] no way I would be where I am
today. He's great. He's such a family guy. Anytime I have a big
game, he's always texting me like after the game. He keeps in touch
with a lot of his players. I'm happy for him.
“He's done everything he's wanted to do while coaching the game.
There's no better guy or coach for everything that's happened to
him — he deserved it all. Happy retirement to him. He's gonna enjoy
it now, he's gonna enjoy his family and grandkids. I'm happy for
him though. I keep in touch with him all the time, and hopefully
they can go out with a bang and try to get him a national
championship this year. It's been fun to watch."
Nowadays, Kennard is in the midst of his fifth NBA campaign and
his second with the Clippers. Year 2 in L.A. has brought on a more
significant role for the sniping swingman, as he’s producing to the
tune of 11.8 points per contest on 61.6% True Shooting in a hair
under 28 minutes per night. On the surface, you’ll see nearly the
exact same perimeter percentage (∼45%) in back-to-back seasons.
However, Kennard has more freedom to fire off these treys this
To this point in 2021-22, Kennard’s three-point rate is at a
career-high 67.0%, which is almost 13 percentage points above last
season’s 54.1%. There’s not one zone beyond the arc where he’s
shooting below 40%, per InStat.
Take a more specific dive into his touch-time data, and you’ll find that he’s launching
from distance almost right upon the catch without hesitation. This
season, Kennard has taken 263 threes with less than 2 seconds of
touch time and he's made 45.6% of those attempts, well on track to
double last season’s output (177) as a whole. Kennard's also had
games where he’s gone for it early in the shot clock more often,
meaning he’s being put in great positions by Clippers head coach
Tyronn Lue and his teammates to hoist off of screens and
"It's just the people around me. The people around me building
that confidence in me and just putting that trust in me to take
those shots,” Kennard said. “I think last year, like in the
offseason, I worked on shooting difficult shots, like coming off
screens... When you're considered one of the elite shooters in the
NBA, you attract a lot of attention. Guys don't like to leave you
that much. So credit to T-Lue for putting me in positions to get
open and my teammates for finding me when I'm open and when I have
that little amount of time and space.
“But for me, I feel like I've grown a lot [by] taking those
shots. I feel like a couple years ago, even last year some, I
wouldn't take some of the shots I'm taking this year. So just
credit to [my] teammates for building that confidence and trusting
me. I feel like I've learned a lot and I've grown a lot."
(Chart via InStat)
Kennard didn’t stop there with his praise for Lue, who has
guided L.A. to a 30-31 record in spite of missing Kawhi Leonard all
year and Paul George for over half of the season.
“He's great. He's a players' coach, man. He knows how to coach
the game. He's one of the best coaches in the NBA. I love playing
for him,” Kennard said. “He really builds a level of confidence in
his players. My role's definitely bigger this year than it was last
year. We have dealt with some injuries, but at the same time, we've
won 30 games this year. We've lost some really close games that we
should've won. And with what we did in the playoffs last year,
being down 2-0 in a few series, it speaks a lot about what kind of
coach he is and how much trust we put into him.
“I love being around him, love playing for him. So he's built a
lot of confidence in me, and just allows us to play and be free and
be who we are. It's been a lot of fun."
Reggie Jackson has had a lot to do with Kennard’s shooting
successes as well. The veteran point guard has the most passes to
Kennard on the team currently, and the quick-trigger man has
nailed a blistering 58.7% of those attempts from
downtown. Whether it be looking up in transition, bulleting the
ball over after an Ivica Zubac high screen or slinging it to the
outside following a drive, they have hooked up 29 times thus
Maybe it’s the synergy between the two from their time spend
together in Detroit, or perhaps it’s the lighthearted, supportive
nature of Jackson that has everybody not only self-assured, but
"Reggie, he's one of our vocal leaders. He's always talking to
us, always has a smile on his face. He lightens up the room. He's
great man. He's one of your biggest hype [men] you can get,”
Kennard said. “You could probably look up a lot of postgame
interviews with other guys and Reggie's in the background dancing
or doing something crazy.
“But we love Reggie. He loves being in L.A. He has a lot of
friends there. Him and PG are really good friends. So they enjoy
each other. Reggie's great. I played with him in Detroit, I mean,
that was my vet. So I've known him for a while now since I've been
in the league and just to be back on a team with him is awesome. He
gets us going though. He's a great player and he's had a really
good year so far, so I'm happy for 'em."
We’ve found out a lot about this particular Clippers group this
season. While a ton of the attention this team is getting has to do
with the future and what could happen when the roster is at full
strength with PG and Kawhi, L.A. is showing an admirable amount of
resiliency in the here and now.
“We've got a really good team. Obviously when we get guys like
PG, Kawhi, Norman Powell — whenever those guys come back, that's
just gonna take us up to an entirely different level, a scary level
honestly,” Kennard said. "We have a really good group, we've won a
lot of games so far, we're in that fight for the playoffs. Right
now, we're in the play-in area, but we told each other after our
last game before the break: 'We want to hit the ground running when
we come back. We want to be ready to go. We want to start winning
more games.' And that's our goal.
“We want to continue to build what we have going on, just
trusting in each other, trusting what the coaches are doing, but
have fun with it as well. It's been a good year... It's been up and
down. It's been a weird year — like the COVID situation [where]
guys have been out — but we've fought through it and guys have
stepped up big and had big moments for us. So it's exciting to be a
part of a team that loves winning and expects to win."
It’s fun to think about the future, but the Clippers don’t plan
on looking ahead anytime soon.
They’re gonna make you earn it.
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