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Hornets Draft Buzz: Donovan Mitchell vs. Luke Kennard

The Hornets Draft Buzz Series continues today with Donovan Mitchell vs. Luke Kennard. Buzz Beat Radio personalities Spencer Percy (Kennard) and Richie Randall (Mitchell) will debate the two players that have been extremely closely linked to Charlotte recently. Mitchell worked out for the Hornets earlier this week and the team is expected to have Kennard in for a workout before next Thursday’s draft.

Sit back, relax and enjoy this in-depth analysis of Donovan Mitchell and Luke Kennard as potential draft prospects for the Hornets with the 11th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.

Why the Hornets should draft Luke Kennard

Spencer Percy, QCH Managing Editor

Let me be on the record stating that I firmly stand in the Donovan Mitchell corner for the Hornets with the 11th pick. Not only that, but I went to the highest point on the hill early in this draft process and screamed about Luke Kennard being a “stay away” in this class of prospects. Now, hear I am making the case for Kennard. Sigh. Anyways, I still believe there’s plenty of risk, but have warmed up – and look, there’s plenty to warm up to. The dude can flat out score. Let’s learn more.

Offensive Efficiency

When Kennard wasn’t constantly touching his hair during his sophomore campaign, presumably just checking to make sure it’s still there, he was scoring – at an incredibly effective rate. Kennard exploded during his sophomore season, finishing with shooting splits of 53% 2P%, 44% 3P%, 86% FT% and earning a spot on the All-ACC First Team. It was an incredible jump in efficiency from his freshman season and LK showed an array of aspects to his game that many didn’t know existed.

LK’s efficiency numbers are elite within this draft class: his 64% True Shooting Percentage clip was the highest of any shooting-guard in the Top-100 Draft Express Database, a Points Per Possession mark of 1.26 was second among top-100 SG’s, and to encapsulate Kennard’s effectiveness, no player had a better mark than LK’s 10% Turnover Rate when using at least 22.6% (LK’s Usage Rate) of their teams possessions. Say it with me: EFFICIENCY.

Kennard’s elite shooting ability will translate easiest to the NBA, but he has a wealth of offensive tricks that help create his efficient offensive arsenal. Let’s start with his old school approach to the game that delivers a lethal triple-threat, numerous ball fakes, great footwork to help him create space, and again, the picture perfect shooting stroke that he can get off in the blink of an eye.

Kennard can get his jump-shot off without needing hardly any space, but defenders have to guard LK carefully due to his sick triple-threat position and capability of getting past the initial defender with the dribble. He uses this triple-threat to influence the defenders center of balance – when LK senses the defenders balance is off center he strikes – with the case you’ll see below, it comes in the form of a quick release triple following a quick left jab step that the defender had virtually no shot at contesting.

To that end, and speaking of balance, Kennard’s is as good as it gets with his shooting mechanics. His chest is always square with the target and LK always gets good lift on the jumper, releasing it on the way up. He will be on every opponent’s scouting report even as a rookie in the NBA due to his shooting acumen.

Although shooting is Kennard’s most translatable skill to the next level, he’s far from a one trick pony. LK showed the ability to create offense for teammates out of the pick-and-roll and off the ball. According to Synergy Sports, Kennard used 141 possessions in pick-and-roll initiated offense and created 1.113 Points Per Possession (PPP). As the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll, LK created 1.106 PPP, which is better than any other player in this draft class. His ability to read a defense from the pick-and-roll, creating offense for himself and others, is real. Reminder: Hornets were 2nd in the league last season in offense derived from the pick-and-roll ball-handler.

The majority of Kennard’s offense that was created via the pick-and-roll was with his jump-shot. Teams likely won’t have to guard him like Steph Curry in these type of plays, but if LK senses a soft-hedge from the help defender then he won’t hesitate to fire away.

The versatility playing off the ball is vital for Kennard in his search to find a role in the NBA. The jury remains out on LK as a pick-and-roll savant when he goes up against NBA defensive schemes, but his ability to make help defenders pay off the ball is something that should translate easily. LK makes punishing closeouts look easy due to his nasty ball-fakes and triple-threat position – it’s just virtually impossible for a defender to closeout on balance when he knows the player he’s recovering to is an elite shooter and capable of beating him off the bounce. Kennard makes light work of this conundrum for defenders.

Here he uses a simple pump-fake that sends the recovering defender into a panic, drives right and uses his underrated ability to absorb contact and finish at the rim.

LK is in the right corner again here – uses a simple pump-fake, getting defender to jump towards his shooting hand, drives baseline and showcases his high IQ and patience to draw Amile Jefferson wide open for the dunk.

Duke also loved to use Kennard in curl action with Jayson Tatum, getting LK to his left hand. As you’ll see below, LK has the patience and footwork to get off his shot in traffic. He uses his pivot foot to twist and rotate until he has the necessary space needed. Many scouts and GM’s wonder if these tricks will translate against NBA defenders, though. As do I.

Finally, to Kennard’s elite shooting ability that will remain elite on the highest level of the game. Look, if all else fails for LK, he’ll be a lethal shooter and should be able to carve out a role for a career in the NBA on that skill alone. He shot 44% from behind the arc last season at Duke, a massive leap from his 32% mark during his freshman year. Most would ask how real the jump in efficiency is, but it’s a safe assumption that you can trust the improvement when you watch him shoot the ball. Picture perfect form – good balance, shoots the ball on the way up, and a lighting quick release.

Convinced yet that Kennard can really play on the offensive end? You should be.

Fit with the Hornets

The Hornets need plenty of help on both ends of the court, and that fact alone probably proves the point to why Donovan Mitchell would be a better fit than Luke Kennard for Charlotte at this time. But conventional wisdom with the draft hasn’t been the Hornets strong-suit during the Rich Cho era, so expect the unexpected.

Kennard improves any NBA offense right away. Some fits would be more seamless than others, of course, and Charlotte should qualify into that category. The Hornets need outside shooting – check. The bulk of the Hornets offense is comprised of ball-screens, but need more wings that can play as the ball-handler in these situations to help Kemba – check. The Hornets just flat out need more offense – check.

There is a clean fit on one end of the ball with LK in Charlotte, but unfortunately that’s where it stops. I’m not sure what he ever evolves into defensively and the only piece of LK’s physique that gives you hope is the 6’6 length. Kennard has average athleticism, quickness, has a tiny wingspan (6’5″) and didn’t show much interest for the defensive end during his two seasons in Durham. This all creates a larger issue – can he be on the floor at the end of games with these defensive liabilities? LK is the antipode to MKG’s issue. It’s fair to assume that the Hornets could talk themselves into Kennard fitting fine into Clifford’s over-helping / team oriented scheme, but the last thing this roster needs is another wing with defensive liabilities.

Look, I was as fatalistic as they come on LK’s potential in the league back in the spring, but he’s grown on me. Watching film of this dude on the offensive end of the floor is basketball art. The combination of skill and IQ that he possesses is hard to find and I have little doubt that it will translate. That said, he’s not the best fit for Charlotte if both he and Mitchell are available. It’s defensible if LK does end up being the pick, but the fan-base will not be happy. Donovan Mitchell is the golden boy – the hype is real.

Why the Hornets should draft Donovan Mitchell

Richie Randall, QCH Contributor & Buzz Beat Co-Host

The prospect of the hour for Charlotte Hornets’ fans is Donovan Mitchell. I’d like to think that I was on the Donovan Mitchell-train before it became trendy. I’m a sucker for players who are flashy and have elite athleticism — Mitchell checks both of those boxes. But, there’s more to Mitchell’s game than just highlight-reel dunks and step-back jumpers. He’s someone who can make an impact on both ends of the court while also filling a need for the Hornets. Here’s my case for selecting the sophomore combo-guard out of Louisville.

Might seem unconventional, but I’ll begin by noting some of Mitchell’s shortcomings. The reason being, many of his strengths outweigh or even cover up his flaws.

First, Mitchell is only 6’3″ and is primarily an off-ball guard. He is definitely undersized for a two-guard and that scares people off. Many assume that on defense he’ll be a non-factor as he gives up several inches and on the opposite end, he’d have to exhaust himself in getting off good shots. He has proven in both of these instances, that isn’t the case.

To make up for his deficiency in the height department, Mitchell’s wingspan measures an impressive 6’10”. It’s rare to see a player of his stature have that type of lankiness. This length allows Donovan to alter shots, knowing that he’ll be giving up several inches to opponents. And, if he does end up in Charlotte, he’d fit right into Clifford’s “over-helping” scheme (I do hope he adjusts though). Mitchell’s length allows him to recover to the perimeter and still be able to contest on long closeouts. He can take that extra step into the lane and allow his athleticism and range take over.

We should also note his anticipation in the passing lanes on the defensive end. We saw Mitchell, on plenty of occasions, disrupt cross-court, bounce-passes to cutters, and, truly, ones of all varieties in his two years at Louisville. For a player that has extreme athleticism and speed, this spells trouble for opponents. It doesn’t take but a small gap for Mitchell to take the steal the opposite direction and finish the fast break. It was disappointing to see Mitchell’s transition numbers last year at Louisville — only averaged .91 points per possession. I expected this number to be much higher considering all the “measurables” that this kid possesses. Good news, it’s something that’s fixable and he has all the tools to get that to a higher clip. Plus, he’s going to have plenty of opportunity to improve his transition offense. According to Ken Pom, Mitchell had a steal percentage of 3.7, ranking him 38th overall nationally. And just as impressive, when the competition ramped up in conference play, he recorded a 3.6 steal percentage — tops in the ACC. Don’t let Mitchell’s size fool you, he brings it on the defensive end. He’s someone you can plug in right away and will flourish, especially under Clifford’s tutelage.

Mitchell is very good at anticipating passes and taking it the opposite way

I get that defense doesn’t excite many fans but it needed to be discussed — especially in Mitchell’s case where he will be able to defend multiple positions. Let’s switch gears and transition to the other end of the court. Donovan Mitchell has the potential to play both guard positions on the NBA level. While he spent the majority of his time at the shooting guard position under Rick Pitino, he’s shown glimpses of transitioning to an adequate point guard. I think we can all agree that the Hornets are in desperate need of another point who can lighten the load that Kemba carries. This past season, we watched oppositions erase leads as Kemba headed to the bench for a breather. Or worse yet, completely balloon in the opponent’s favor. It forced Clifford’s hand and Kemba needed to play more, especially in 2nd halves, to keep games competitive. This wasn’t ideal and if the backup point guard position isn’t addressed, you can bet we will see more wear on Kemba’s body.

This is where Clifford and the Hornets insert Mitchell to run that second unit. He’s not your prototypical point guard and it will take time for Mitchell to evolve into a true combo-guard. But in the meantime, there’s a ton to like about his game. Mitchell has proven to be extremely effective while operating the pick-and-roll, a staple in the Hornets’ scheme. If one hopes to manage an offense as a one-guard, it’s imperative that you can navigate a ball-screen. Mitchell has more than validated himself in this area on the college-level and I see no reason why it won’t carry over. What makes it difficult in guarding a player like him, is accounting for his explosiveness. You play too tight, he will split you or hit you with his step-back jumper. You go-under or are too lazy in fighting through the pick, he’s shown the ability to pull-up from a variety of spots on the court. In his sophomore campaign, 203 of Louisville’s possessions involved Mitchell in the pick and roll. With Donovan as the ball-handler, Louisville scored close to 1 point per possession — this includes passes to teammates. This number is nothing to scoff at and places him in the upper-echelon of players in pick-and-roll derived offense.

We see all facets of Mitchell’s game: steal on one end, and the PnR, hesitation, finish on the other

Where Mitchell has shown the most strides in college is in spot up situations. His form — between his balance, release point and follow-through — is near-impeccable. You won’t have to worry about some off-season mechanic overhaul. It’s merely a matter of getting the reps in. If Mitchell does show signs of a struggle in running that second unit, you can bet he will still be a factor playing off-ball. He did a great job of finding his spots on the court and shooting the ball in rhythm off the pass. He ranked in the 70th percentile in catch and shoots (1.13 points per possession) and an amazing 1.54 in unguarded catch and shoots. At the least, although this is selling him short, he’ll be a spark plug off the bench.

He has shown tremendous improvement from his freshman to his sophomore seasons. Case in point, he went from a 25% three-point shooter to a 35% three-point shooter on almost 5 more attempts per game. This tells me that he’s someone who is willing to put in the work to develop his weak points. This tells me that the changeover from shooting guard to a combo-guard will be easier than anticipated. He will come in right away and make an impact on defense and add versatility on the offensive end. With the 11th pick in the NBA Draft, the Charlotte Hornets should select Donovan Mitchell.

Why the Hornets should not draft Luke Kennard
If Mitchell is the prospect of the hour, then Kennard is the prospect of the minute. It seems like his name has had a late push among Hornets’ fans and I’m not sure I’m buying into the intrigue. His game, outside of his shooting, doesn’t have a lot of translatable skills.
Let me get this out there, Kennard can score in a variety of ways. He shot the ball at an impressive clip from both inside and outside the arc — 53% and 44% respectively. At Duke, they ran him off screens to free him for open threes and he wasn’t afraid to shoot. If there wasn’t as much daylight, defenders had to respect his shot and Kennard knew that. He was very crafty and used a variety of pumps, jabs, and pivots to get open shots in the midrange.
While I understand that Kennard is a top-tiered shooter in this year’s draft, I’m not sure his craftiness will translate in today’s NBA. In a league where teams are looking to get more versatile, I question whether Kennard’s ability to create that separation will be viable. He has shown no real signs of explosiveness on the offensive end and that’s an issue, especially if he’s trying to get by a big. To defend Kennard, I see opponents just switching the off-ball screens, not allowing him to get a clean look. He was effective, not because he blew by his defender, but because he’s well-coached and was clever in how he got off a shot. I just worry that with teams getting more athletic, long, and “switchy” on defense, that Luke’s effectiveness with the ball in his hands will diminish.
Although I just bashed Kennard, and maybe it was a little undeserving, on the offensive end, the majority of his problems rest on the opposite side. The question GMs have to ask themselves is ‘How can we hide Kennard on defense?’ Until he can prove that he can stay with an opposition, that challenge will always remain. He struggles with both on and off-ball defense. Go back and watch video of him at Duke and you will see many lapses of him ball-watching. And with that, came back-door cuts and open lanes for his man. But, if you put him on a player that loves to play on-ball, you run the risk of constant help defense. This also brings up another concern — what position is he best suited to defend? His height, 6’5″ for a shooting guard, is adequate but the problem is in his lateral quickness and his underwhelming wingspan. Will he be able to move side-to-side with the shifty 2-guards or will he have the size to take on the small forwards?
My view on Kennard, throughout this draft process, has definitely changed for the better, even with all my expressed negativity. I do like his skills on offense but have too many doubts about him and how he will compete on the next level. He’d fit perfectly on an established playoff team that needs a punch off the bench. With all the deficiencies that the Hornets’ bench showed last year, we need a player that checks more boxes and Kennard just isn’t that dude.