Duke freshmen Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles have already declared for the NBA Draft. Veteran frontcourt players Chase Jeter and Sean Obi will transfer out of the program. As the future of Marques Bolden hangs in the balance, the next big decision on the docket for Duke’s roster rests on the shoulders of Luke Kennard.
After an All-ACC sophomore season, Kennard’s appeal as a prospect has grown in the eyes of NBA decision-makers. A year ago it would have seemed silly for Kennard to even flirt with the idea of departing early for the draft. That is no longer the case.
Here are four reasons why Kennard should strongly consider entering the 2017 NBA Draft.
The power of the three
The emphasis placed on three-point shooting has never been higher in the NBA. The Houston Rockets attempt 40 threes per game. With a handful of games left on the schedule, James “The Running Beard” Harden and Houston have already raced past the single-season record for made three-pointers. Golden State previously set that record last season.
Kennard was the best shooter in the ACC this season — period. Kennard made nearly 44 percent of his three-pointers as a sophomore. According to Synergy Sports, Kennard took 281 jump shots in 2016-17 — second-most in the ACC. The Lefty connected on 44.3 percent of those attempts, which ranked third among ACC players.
In ACC play, Kennard splashed 46.8 percent of his triples, which ranked eighth in the conference, per KenPom.
Gravity: It is more than physics
As the NBA has become more of a European-style slash-and-kick league, a premium has been place on movement. The best shooters are also the best movers without the basketball. If you watch Klay Thompson and J.J. Redick play, you will need a swig of Gatorade at some point from just trying to keep up with their fitness. These guys are always in motion. They will run off a flare screen, and if the shot is not there, they kick the ball back out and sprint off another down screen.
That type of movement — combined with their shooting prowess — moves and bends defenses in profound ways. This is gravity. It is what opens passing lanes and carves out alleys for drives to the basket.
Kennard excelled this year in two vital off-the-ball patterns: dribble handoffs (DHOs) and screens. Amile Jefferson and Kennard made sweet music together in DHO action this season. Per Synergy, Kennard scored 1.18 points per possession on handoffs, which ranks 47th nationally. He shot nearly 48 percent on those possessions, too, which is smoking.
The southpaw also connected on 49.4 percent of his shots after coming off of a screen. That ranked No. 3 in the ACC among players with at least 30 possessions.
Maybe the water isn’t so deep
It is impossible to know these things so far in advance, but many in the know predict the 2017 NBA Draft to be among the best in league history. The thought is that the 2017 class has the potential to join the lexicon of previous….1984, 1996 and 2003.
However, Sam Vecenie, who covers the draft for The Sporting News, has mentioned that this draft looks to be top-heavy. Once you get outside of the first dozen prospects, it flattens out. This can lead to a lot of variance in individual draft projections. For a guy like Kennard, though, who just played the best basketball of his life, it may be time to strike while the iron is hot.
Pardon that awful cliche, but Kennard can look at Grayson Allen as an example for what happens when you do not cash in as your stock peaks.
Take a glance around
Allen was a top 20-25 prospect a season ago; however, after a frustrating junior season that was plagued by injuries and a suspension, Allen is closer to a mid-second-round projection.
The financial windfalls of a first-round draft pick are extraordinary, especially as rookie-scale contracts are set to increase in 2017. First-round picks are guaranteed two-year contracts, which can essentially function as four-year deals; NBA franchises have team-options on these players in Years 3 and 4.
That guarantee, however, is nonexistent for second-round picks, who face a much more challenging task of making a roster and earning significant cash. This is all a gamble, and it is best to push your chips to the table when the odds are slanted in your favor.
Theoretically, Kennard — who is ranked as the No. 25 prospect by Draft Express — could come back, dominate as a junior and then enter what is supposedly a weaker 2018 draft. He does not have injury concerns, like Giles, but there is still sizable financial risk involved here, which has to be taken into consideration.