The LA Clippers know that Kawhi Leonard’s health situation is one that will likely keep him in and out of the lineup for most of the season. While the hope is of course that Leonard can begin playing more games than he has so far, he will at least be missing one half of back-to-back sets for all of this season, leaving scheduled rest days to occur even once he has returned to the lineup.
Because of this, the Clippers need an effective plan in place for the games Leonard misses. That plan is something that needs be be perfected sooner rather than later, as the team has struggled in the absence of their star forward.
In a recent starting lineup change, head coach Ty Lue inserted sharpshooting guard Luke Kennard into the starting unit, moving Norman Powell back to the bench. While this was not a demotion for Powell, but rather an opportunity for him to get used to the role he will have once Leonard returns, the insertion of Kennard into the starting lineup has instantly improved the Kawhi-less Clippers.
What does Kennard bring?
Rightfully known for his shooting, Luke Kennard is more than just a shooter. Having led the NBA in three-point percentage last season, teams are no longer allowing him any space either on or off the ball. This has forced him to get creative offensively, but has also forced him to contribute in other ways while he struggles to generate shot attempts.
One of these ways has been on the defensive ned, where Kennard has shown vast improvement. So far this season, the Clippers have been at their best defensively when Kennard is on the floor, posting a 100.3 DRTG in his minutes. The only players on the team with a better clip, are those who have missed too much time for the sample size to mean much.
In addition to this improved defense, has been Kennard’s improved rebounding. Averaging 7.3 rebounds per game over his last three contests, Kennard has helped mightily on the glass for an undersized Clippers team. This is another way in which he has shown has value outside of his unmatched shooting ability.
The Clippers have won the two games that Kennard has started, and he has posted a +19 plus/minus across those two tightly contested games. While he will likely be moved back to the bench once Leonard returns, Kennard has given the Clippers a much needed spark in that starting group, and could be the answer for that unit while it waits for Kawhi Leonard.