Digging for Diamonds: Luke Kennard & Stanley Johnson
With Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley both in LaLa Land (can you tell I am not from the west coast?), opportunity is abound in the Detroit Pistons backcourt. Harris and Bradley previously both ate up proper starter’s minutes, leaving little room for Detroit’s 2017 and 2015 first round draft picks, Luke Kennard and Stanley Johnson, to earn time in the rotation. Let’s start with their statistical profiles from the preseason:
Kennard:Age: 21. Drafted 1.12 (2017), CARMELO five-year value projected for $4.8M, Pelton Rookie WARP (1.1; ranked 20th in a strong class).
Johnson: Age: 21. Drafted 1.8 (2015), CARMELO five-year value projected for $48M.
Reggie Bullock (44% three point shooting) will still factor prominently into the rotation, meaning the “Stanimal” will still need to beast his way into the rotation with his defense, but Kennard has a decent chance to get to 30 minutes per game. I’ll leave the exact 2018 playing time prospecting to redraft sites, because I am focused on their long-term prospects and whether they represent buys, sells or holds.
Our data points are lacking for Kennard, who has played only 18.3 mpg in his 43 NBA games as of this writing (1/30/18), but there’s reason to believe Kennard can be a high-floor top 100 player. First, he’s shot 44% from three, and making threes will get you on the court. Second, by ESPN’s RPM he is a scratch defender. For me, Kennard’s CARMELO comps are perfect: Wayne Ellington, Jeremy Lamb, Rodney Hood, etc. That kind of profile tends to max out around top 100, especially given Kennard’s shaky steal/block ability. I like him as a legitimate long-term role player in the 125-150 range for dynasty assets, which might make him a buy depending on how his owner values him, but that upside doesn’t leave a ton of room for profit.
Johnson, on the other hand, has more upside, as evidenced by his impressive, box-score stuffing double-double on 1/30 against the Cavs. However, without a viable NBA jump shot, he’ll always be a risk to sit on the bench. There are reasons for optimism. For starters, he’s only one month older than Kennard despite being in his third NBA season. Second, his free throw shooting has gotten up to nearly 80% on the year, a career high. Free throw shooting is sometimes a proxy for three point stroke, which suggests he has a chance to raise his accuracy from deep closer to league average. Johnson is a safe bet to be an asset on defense – CARMELO, ESPN RPM and reputation all agree he’s at least better than average. At just 21, there’s time for his offense to catch up to his defensive ability.
Personally, I like Johnson more than Kennard because I am a sucker for upside. He has three average or above average fantasy tools (blocks, steals, boards), which means that if he can find any semblance of an offensive game, we can dream on top 75 seasons. His odds of getting there are shaky, but better to roster guys like Johnson than take the proverbial “layup” with Kennard.