There is plenty of buzz surrounding Duke’s loaded 2014 recruiting class, but there is reason to be optimistic about the 2015 group as well.
There is one reason in particular that stands out now—shooting guard Luke Kennard. In fact, as of Wednesday, he is the Blue Devils’ only verbal pledge, and they still rank No. 16 in 247Sports’ composite team rankings. That is bound to improve as Mike Krzyzewski hits the recruiting trail harder, but to be in the top 20 with only one player is a testament to Kennard’s abilities.
Per 247Sports, Kennard is a 5-star shooting guard from Franklin, Ohio, who checks in at 6’5” and 182 pounds.
He chose Duke over the likes of Ohio State, Louisville, Florida, Kentucky and Michigan, and he discussed why, via Mike Dyer of The News & Observer:
Being around Coach K and the players – how the program was ran – I could tell it was a very special place and I could see myself fitting in there.
I felt at peace with my decision. Duke was the best fit for me.
Fox Sports Ohio’s Zac Jackson provided a bit of insight into Kennard’s recruitment:
Luke Kennard is a 4.3 student. He visited Duke for the UNC game in Cameron. Coach K slammed the door from there.— Zac Jackson (@FSOhioZJackson) March 24, 2014
The first thing that jumps out about his game is his ability to hit from behind the three-point line with relative ease. He is a dead-eye shooter who helps space the floor on the offensive side for penetration from other guards and post-ups from the bigs because defenders cannot afford to leave him to provide help elsewhere.
Kennard can also put the ball on the floor and attack the rim, thanks to his impressive ball-handling skills. He can certainly finish at the rim, but his ability to create for others and find open teammates with the pass will be more valuable for Duke going forward.
Basically, Kennard is an offensive machine who will help the Blue Devils find the basket consistently, be it from his own production or through his assist totals.
There are a few areas of improvement to watch for as Kennard gradually approaches the rigors of ACC play. He would benefit from some added strength, given his slight frame for someone who stands at 6’5,” and his athleticism is never going turn many heads. He doesn’t really have that explosive first step that many of the top shooting guard prospects do, but he makes up for it by pouring in the points anyway.
If nothing else, Kennard will add some muscle mass just by being within the Duke program in his first season. Let him worry about senior prom before he has to bench press enough to attack the paint against North Carolina or Syracuse.
The question now becomes: Where will Kennard fit in with this Blue Devils squad when he arrives on campus?
We know that Quinn Cook will be gone by Kennard’s freshman campaign, but the backcourt could consist of Tyus Jones, Rasheed Sulaimon, Grayson Allen and Matt Jones, not to mention Justise Winslow as a versatile shooting guard/small forward hybrid. Even though there is plenty of deserved excitement regarding the recruits and younger players, Sulaimon will be a senior by then and likely receive a ton of playing time because of it.
Will Luke Kennard start by his sophomore year at Duke?
It’s also difficult to imagine anyone but the uber-talented Jones running the team from the point guard spot, although that is bound to change if he becomes a one-and-done player like Jabari Parker was for Duke. Don’t be surprised if Jones, Jahlil Okafor and even Winslow leave for the greener pastures of the NBA after their freshmen seasons.
Kennard’s playing time as a freshman likely hinges on the decisions of Jones and Winslow because that is a rather crowded backcourt.
However, by the time Kennard is a sophomore, Sulaimon will certainly be gone, and it’s difficult to imagine Jones and Winslow still being around either. Therefore, Kennard could be a major piece in the rotation and likely even the starting shooting guard by then. Allen and Matt Jones are impressive athletes, but Kennard is the better pure scorer.
There will be a time when Kennard is possibly Duke’s leading scorer or at least one of the main cogs in the offense. It just won’t be his freshman year unless there are some early defections.
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