Desperately needing a shooter who has been missing since their most recent championship season, the Detroit Pistons christened Franklin High School graduate Luke Kennard that go-to guy Thursday night, taking him with the 12th pick in the first round of the NBA draft.
Detroit was the team that appeared to be most enticed by Kennard prior to the draft. Although he did his best to prove to teams in pre-draft workouts he had more game than just being a shooter, that’s exactly what made Stan Van Gundy, Pistons president of basketball operations, choose him.
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“It’s awesome. Close to home; I love it,” Kennard said during an ESPN interview after his selection. “Some people think I can be just a shooter, (but) just showing my play-making ability and my creativeness and my competitiveness” is what he tried to establish in nine pre-draft NBA workouts. “I’m competitive as a player and I’m looking forward to this.”
Kennard, a 2015 Franklin grad who played two seasons at Duke, was among 20 players invited to attend the draft, which was televised by ESPN and held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
He is the fourth area player to be drafted in the first round since 2007, joining Jefferson grad Adreian Payne (No. 14 from Michigan State, Hawks in ’14) and Dunbar grads Norris Cole (No. 28 from Cleveland State University, Bulls in ’11) and Daequan Cook (No. 21 from Ohio State, 76ers in ’07).
A 6-foot-6 shooter who’s adept with both hands, Kennard likely be used as a 2 guard.
Kennard initially excelled as a two-time Ohio Mr. Basketball at Franklin (2014-15). He ended his Wildcats career among Ohio’s all-time leaders in most offensive categories, including No. 2 in career scoring (2,977 points) behind only Jon Diebler (Fostoria and Upper Sandusky).
Kennard continued that success at Duke, which he chose over Ohio State and Kentucky. This past season was a significant breakout for Kennard. Duke endured several injuries to key players and an early-season meltdown and suspension of star guard Grayson Allen. Kennard responded by averaging a team-high 19.5 points, being named the only unanimous first team All-ACC player and being a finalist for the Wooden Award, college basketball’s player of the year.
Kennard should be an immediate hit with the Pistons, who finished 28th in 3-point shooting (33 percent) and last in overall shooting percentage. The Pistons won NBA titles in 1989-90 and 2004 but have been in the playoffs once the last eight seasons, being swept in the first round by the Cavaliers in 2016.
“It was a tough choice to leave Duke,” Kennard said. “Duke was such a special place. I trusted the people I surrounded myself with my coaches and parents and people involved in my life. They told me it was a good opportunity and I was looking forward to it. Since I had a pretty good year, I thought it was a good time to go.”
Kennard is expected to address the Detroit media Friday. He was joined in New York by his immediate family and Franklin coach Brian Bales, who coached Kennard from 2011-15 and remains in that position.