Luke Kennard could emerge as a long-term option for the Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder have found success this year despite the fact that many thought they’d be one of the worst teams in the NBA. Behind a veteran core of Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari, Steven Adams, and Dennis Schroder, the Thunder raced to a 40-24 record before the hiatus was implemented.
One player that has emerged as a future cornerstone for the franchise is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who was acquired in the Paul George trade over the offseason.
SGA has quickly transformed into one of the most overlooked young stars in the NBA and has shown consistent growth and leadership over the first two years of his career. Learning from Paul doesn’t hurt either, which he’s gotten the luxury to do this season.
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On top of their somewhat unexpected success this season, the Thunder also has one of the richest troves of draft picks in the league thanks to Sam Presti, who traded away both George and Russell Westbrook over the summer.
Because of those two big deals, OKC now has 15 first-round draft picks over the next seven seasons. The team has the flexibility to do many things this offseason (and moving forward) thanks in part to those assets. One potential fit next to SGA is Luke Kennard, who is entering the final year of his contract with the Detroit Pistons.
Why Luke Kennard?
Luke Kennard is one of the most underrated players in the NBA. He has improved every season he has been in the league, and when healthy he can be a long-term guard for a contending team. At only 24 years old, he also can be a player for the future with Gilegous-Alexander, regardless of whether or not Presti decides to keep the team’s veteran core.
Kennard is a crafty two-guard with a game that has shades of Manu Ginobili and what the Thunder had in young James Harden. He may not ever be the superstar that each of those two players were, but he is a player that can make an impact for a long time on a contender.
Being the unselfish player that he is, Kennard could thrive as a starting 2-guard next to SGA but he could also be a great option for this team off the bench if they elect to keep (or can’t trade) Chris Paul next season. A potential trade for Kennard would also give the team flexibility when it comes to Schroder, who is also on an expiring contract after the 2020-21 season.
What I think makes Kennard a great target for Oklahoma City is that he not only fits the things they like to do on offense, but he also can improve on this team’s weaknesses.
For as good as this Thunder team has been in this season, they are not a proficient shooting team. The team ranks 18th in the league in 3-point shooting percentage at 35.5 percent, and they are 28th in the league in 3’s made per game at only 10 a game.
Kennard has been a 40 percent 3-point shooter for his career so adding him to this Thunder team will boost their weakness, giving more space for other Thunder players to get to the basket as well.
The Piston’s shooting guard is more than just a 3-point threat though, he has shown great ability to be a secondary ball-handler and distributor. Advanced analytics show he is excellent in the pick-and-roll and driving to basket. This is great because the Thunder drive to the basket at the second-highest rate in the league.
The Thunder are also third in the league in pick-and-roll frequency using the play on 23 percent of their offensive possessions. This means that Kennard can come in and play on the ball in certain situations or play off the ball and space the floor.
What makes the idea of this trade so attractive is that the Thunder also seems to be the perfect place for Kennard’s weaknesses to improve much like how he will improve the Thunder’s weak points.
Kennard for much of his career has been at most an okay defender. He’s not the most athletic player so he is limited in what he can do on defense. Billy Donovan is one of the best defensive minds in the league, and he was able to take Dennis Schroder who was viewed as one of the worst defenders in the league and make him a good defender.
The Thunder should be able to mask Kennard’s defensive issues and even improve him to be a solid defensive guard.
The real cherry on top of a potential deal for Luke Kennard is that he is cheap. Kennard will be entering the last year of his rookie deal so the Thunder could fit him onto their team without much trouble. After that, he will be a restricted free agent so the Thunder could then match any offer for Kennard.
He is a good player that has the potential to be great that won’t cost the Thunder a lot of cap space if they want to target a superstar down the line.
Getting a deal like this done I don’t think would take all that much either. The Pistons are in total rebuild mode and they need more future assets. The Thunder essentially has the most future assets in the whole league. A deal of a future first-round pick and a young flier can get this deal done.
Adding Luke Kennard isn’t adding a star but it is adding a winning player. He can be a long-term piece for the Thunder and set them up with a future backcourt. With some excellent drafting or a blockbuster trade, Gilgeous-Alexander and Kennard could lead a backcourt on a champion team.