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Duke’s Luke Kennard has a whole new taskmaster to try to please in Detroit

Former Duke star Luke Kennard (left) has a lot of work to do defensively to make Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy (right) happy during Kennard’s NBA rookie season.
Former Duke star Luke Kennard (left) has a lot of work to do defensively to make Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy (right) happy during Kennard’s NBA rookie season. AP

Detroit Pistons rookie Luke Kennard knows all about creative tension in basketball.

Kennard’s college coach, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, has been known to ban his players from the locker room in response to substandard performance.

But Kennard never even went through a practice before Stan Van Gundy, the Pistons’ coach and president of basketball operations, offered a scathing critique of Kennard’s interest in playing defense. This came one day after the Pistons used the 12th overall pick to select Kennard to play shooting guard.

He’s got to change his entire defensive approach. He’s got to do that if he wants to get on the floor.

Stan Van Gundy, Detroit Pistons coach, at Luke Kennard’s introductory news conference

Or, the way Van Gundy described it, not play shooting guard this season.

“He’s got to change his entire defensive approach. He’s got to do that if he wants to get on the floor,” Van Gundy told media at Kennard’s introductory news conference.

... you land your dream job straight out of college. ... You are considered among best of the best in your field. Then, the first thing your new boss does is rip not only your performance, but your very approach to the new job.

“Even guarding his own position, that’s an area (where) he’s got to get a lot better and, quite honestly, take a lot more pride in than he did this past year.

“I don’t doubt his capabilities. (But) I watched a lot of games, and he didn’t do it.”

Imagine yourself in this situation: After interviewing with nine potential employers (the NBA predraft workouts), you land your dream job straight out of college. As a lottery pick (the first 14 selections, going to non-playoff qualifiers), you are considered among best of the best in your field.

Then, the first thing your new boss does is rip not only your performance, but your very approach to the new job.

Could you blame Kennard if he rolled his eyes, shrugged his shoulders, and questioned what he’d gotten himself into? Kennard took a different approach.

He got inspired.

KennardFileExtra1
Duke guard Luke Kennard, left, contests a shot by Troy forward DeVon Walker (25) in the 2017 NCAA basketball tournament. “I like to be pushed. I like when coaches are on me, always giving me teaching points. Coach K was that way with me,” Kennard, left, now with the Detroit Pistons, said. Chuck Liddy cliddy@newsobserver.com

“It was great. I like to be pushed. I like when coaches are on me, always giving me teaching points. Coach K was that way with me,” Kennard said after the Pistons’ 103-78 victory over the New York Knicks at Orlando summer league Sunday.

“As soon as I got drafted, I talked with Coach Stan, and he was really involved with me. Throughout this week of practice and games, he’s taught me about this game. I really enjoyed it.”

If you need to be stroked, if every correction must come with a candy coating, then you won’t enjoy playing for Stan Van Gundy or Steve Clifford.

This is Van Gundy’s way, a trait he shares with his protégé, Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford. If you need to be stroked, if every correction must come with a candy coating, then you won’t enjoy playing for these men.

But as another former Blue Devil, Gerald Henderson, said of Clifford, it’s always better work for a coach who will tell you the ugly truth.

It’s not as if Van Gundy was breaking new ground in questioning Kennard’s defense. Rather, he was putting Kennard on notice from Day 1, so Kennard directs focus on that deficiency.

NBA media day: Duke's Luke Kennard seemed surprised when asked about UNC's Justin Jackson saying Kennard should have been named ACC player of the year.

If Kennard wasn’t the best shooter in this draft class, he was in an elite circle in that skill set. He is 5-of-11 from the NBA 3-point line in his first two games of this summer league. He is averaging 15 points in Orlando.

Also, he’s showing he’s more than just a shot-for-hire. Kennard had six assists in those two games, including a pass in traffic to Michael Gbinije for a thunderous dunk.

“For me, it’s about making different plays. Passing comes along with that,” Kennard said. “Any time I can get the best shot for this team (by) making the extra pass, I’m going to do so.”

Of course, that’s another offensive skill. That’s not what has Van Gundy’s attention as he monitors Kennard at the Magic’s practice gym.

“He’s got a lot of work to do in that area, a lot of work to do,” Van Gundy said after the draft. “Defensively, I wouldn’t put him in a game.”

At the very least, Kennard knows precisely what his mission is between now and fall training camp.

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell

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