Luke Kennard lets Clippers teammates know he must play better
As part of a team-bonding exercise to begin training camp, the Clippers introduced themselves, one at a time, in front of an audience of teammates and coaches. Not long after, amid the team’s three-game preseason schedule, backup guard Luke Kennard asked to address his teammates one more time.
“He told us that in the locker room, he wants to play better,” forward Kawhi Leonard said. “That is big from guys, if they’re saying that in the preseason, you know what I mean? He’s locked in. I like what I see.”
Kennard, whom the team is eligible to sign to a contract extension before Monday, apparently was not satisfied with what he’d seen from his play, which sparked his impromptu comments ahead of Tuesday’s season opener against the Lakers. The game will mark one year and one day since Kennard last played in a counting contest. The 6-foot-5 Kennard, a 40% three-point shooter during his three-year career, was shut down by Detroit after only 28 games last season to recover from bilateral knee tendinitis.
Kennard and four second-round picks were acquired from the Pistons in a November trade that sent Clippers guards Rodney McGruder to Detroit and Landry Shamet to Brooklyn. Kennard entered training camp confident his injury was behind him. Coach Tyronn Lue took Kennard aside during camp to suggest he be more patient with himself.
“After our first scrimmage in training camp, I just told him, be aggressive, be who you are, if you’re doing too much, I’ll let you know — and I doubt I would ever say that,” Lue said. “So, attack the basket, take your shots, create for other guys, and just be who you are, and I told him, Kawhi and [Paul George], they need that from you. They want that from you. So don’t come here trying to fit in, trying to please guys. Just play your game, and then we’ll make sure we tailor your game around our offensive foundation.”
Kennard finished with 13 points, four rebounds, one assist and no turnovers in 22 minutes in Thursday’s preseason finale against Utah, which Lue called “his best game so far in being aggressive.” He has made 50% of his three-pointers, and 42% of his attempts overall, while turning the ball over nearly two times per preseason game.
Mfiondu Kabengele, who averaged 18 minutes of play in three preseason games while making 40% of his three-point shots, looks to continue improving.
Kennard isn’t alone in asking for patience. Though Lue said getting players familiar with his systems, not results, was his preseason priority, the Clippers lost all three exhibitions. Though backup guard Terance Mann said the team had adjusted more quickly to learning a new defensive system run by associate head coach Dan Craig, the Clippers have allowed the fifth-highest opponent shooting percentage.
The Lakers and Jazz made a combined 49.5% of their three-pointers against the Clippers.
“We are not where we want to be yet but we are going that way,” center Ivica Zubac said. “I think it is going to take us a few games into the season to get there but eventually we will be there.”
In the zone
Lue has said he feels like a different coach from the one who led Cleveland to three consecutive Finals, a comment that reflects the changes he has made to both his personal life — finding more outlets for his energy outside of his work chief among them — and his development after using the last two seasons to study his peers.
The Clippers won’t look like a carbon copy of Lue’s Cavaliers teams, either. Defensively, Lue employed an almost exclusively man-to-man defense in Cleveland, but more 2-3 zone is expected under Craig, whose defense in Miami last season ran more zone than any other in the NBA. The 2-3 zone debuted Sunday against Utah to middling reviews — “we didn’t look very good,” Lue said — but the coach believes it is needed to be less predictable.
“I know in Cleveland we didn’t play a lot of zone, but I think you need zone in your back pocket to disrupt guys in the game, when guys are in a flow, or there’s one player or one set that’s hurting you, we can go zone and just kinda mix it up a little bit,” Lue said. “And I think when you have teams that are great at out of timeouts, doing zone in a little bit just to keep them off guard, is very good as well.
A closer look at Johnny Wilkes, the man who has filed a lawsuit against the Clippers and consultant Jerry West, leading to an NBA investigation.
“So I’ve always been a fan of zone — if it works, or if it’s done the right way.”
Craig’s scheme shouldn’t require a significant adjustment for holdovers. Only six teams ran more zone than the Clippers last season, and only one allowed fewer points per possession.
The new zone “really kind of protects our paint and keeps the ball hopping on the outside, basically try to keep it outside the paint,” Mann said. “Not too much different than last year. Little things are different, but a 2-3 zone is a 2-3 zone at the end of the day.”
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