(First posted at RealGM)
Luke Kennard started the season projected as a 2018 draft prospect on Draft Express and was first ranked in this year’s class in February as a late first rounder. Four months later, the six-foot-six sharpshooter is currently ranked 13th on the website’s top 100 and is generally expected to be picked in the lottery.
It’s been quite a rise for Kennard, who didn’t impress a whole lot in his freshman season but showed substantial improvement from the get-go as a sophomore. Duke dealt with a number of injuries earlier in the year and it was Kennard’s breakout as a college basketball star that kept the boat afloat through the non-conference part of Duke’s schedule.
But even as the highly touted Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles were inserted into the mix, and Grayson Allen eventually stabilized towards the latter part of the season, Kennard sustained his elite-level production, despite the ever growing competition for shots on a star-studded team.
He led Duke in scoring, averaging 22 points per 40 minutes on a .630 true shooting percentage despite the fact 81.6% of his live ball attempts were taken away from the basket, anchoring an offense that ranked sixth in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency.
Yet, Kennard has a really long path to stardom at the pro level. He’s not a special athlete, struggles to make an impact on defense, and has not shown dexterity for creating shots against a set defense. Without some unforeseen development in athletic ability or creativity, he will need to translate his elite-level shot making or perhaps even improve on it in the pros to justify how high he’ll be drafted.
Kennard’s top skill at this point of his development is his catch-and-shoot jumper, as he averaged 1.14 points per possession on such looks last season.
But aside from being a deadly open shot shooter, he can also come off pindown screens working the second side of the floor. Duke didn’t put him in floppy action or have him run around staggered screens a lot but given the fluidity of his release, Kennard can be considered a valuable chess piece whose gravity can be leveraged by being moved around the floor. He consistently does good shot preparation and has a quick trigger – nailing 43.8% of his 201 three-point shots last season.
Kennard is not explosive enough to blow by closeouts or turn the corner on dribble hand-offs but relies on crafty moves to create a shot against a scrambling defense.
He doesn’t yet have enough strength to maintain his momentum forward through contact in order to get all the way to the basket but has enough of it to maintain his balance and be able to create separation with sudden step-backs or pivots into a well-coordinated spin move. Also able to elevate for stop-and-pop mid-range jumpers over smaller defenders and flashing neat touch on tear drops from the in-between area, Kennard converted 48.2% of his 195 two-point jumpers last season.
He can pass on the move as well – assisting on 13.6% of Duke’s scores when he was on the floor. Kennard doesn’t have particularly impressive court vision but has proven himself able to kick-out to a strong-side shooter relocating to an open spot and drop-off to a big man at the dunker spot when he manages to suck in the defense.
SHOT CREATION FROM THE TOP
Kennard didn’t run a lot of middle high pick-and-roll due to the nature of Duke’s motion offense but didn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the instances where he handled the ball against a set defense.
He doesn’t have an explosive first step to turn on the jets on straight-line drives to the basket and hasn’t shown a particularly diverse set of dribble moves to get by his man in isolation or snake his way through traffic working off a ball-screen.
As he was able to generate just 18.4% of his shots at the rim despite his 24% usage rate and the fact Duke often provided him with exceptional floor spacing for the college level, Kennard too often relied on tear drops when he needed to figure something out against a defender set in a stance with help behind him.
When he managed to force the issue and reach the basket, Kennard showed he doesn’t have enough resources to score in traffic. He lacks explosiveness elevating off one foot to go up strong, doesn’t have length for over-extended finishes and hasn’t shown the ability to hang and adjust his body in the air for up-and-under’s – totaling only 45 unassisted makes at the basket in 37 appearances last season.
Kennard flashed some wraparound passing off dribble penetration to the corner but for the most part doesn’t seem to be a particularly advanced passer, rarely proving himself able to pass across his body to the opposite end of the floor.
He can execute the scheme on the other end of the floor, showing consistent attention to his help responsibilities, but lacks the physical profile and athletic ability to make a real difference.
As a weak-side defender, Kennard rotates inside in time a decent amount to crowd the area near the basket and picks up the eventual steal/block slapping the ball but doesn’t have the hops to act as a constant shot blocking threat, lacks the length to contest shots effectively and hasn’t shown a lot of dexterity drawing charges. His only significantly tangible contributions were on the defensive glass.
His biggest weakness is as an individual defender, though. As of now, Kennard projects as someone who will forever need to hidden on someone who can’t dribble in the pros. He doesn’t have the lateral quickness to stay in front of smaller types one-on-one and needs to develop more strength to contain dribble penetration when bigger types drive right at him, as he was bullied by such types in college.
 According to sports-reference
 According to hoop-math
 According to kenpom.com
 According to research by Draft Express’ Mike Schmitz
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara