Luke Kennard’s growing impact on the Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis Grizzlies guard Luke Kennard - Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
Memphis Grizzlies guard Luke Kennard - Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports /

Luke Kennard joined the Memphis Grizzlies in an unheralded trade deadline move on February 9th, 2023. Amidst Kevin Durant to the Suns, Kyrie Irving to the Mavericks, and total roster turnover for the Lakers; the national media barely paid attention to the most accurate three-point shooter in the league joining a team that desperately needed his skillset.

The Grizzlies shipped out three second-round picks and Danny Green in the deal. In terms of this year’s roster, they swapped Kennard for a player who logged 43 minutes and scored 9 points in his brief Memphis career.

It took Kennard 43 days to break the franchise record for threes in a game.

After 19 games in a Grizzlies jersey, Kennard is averaging 10.4 points per game on scintillating 55% three-point shooting. He’s currently riding an eight-game streak with at least 10 points and three triples each game, including the 30-point fever dream last Friday against Houston.

Being in the building for the LUUUUUKE game was a spellbinding experience. I threw up my hands in elated disbelief multiple times as he rained in threes on releases so fast the original “Cool Hand Luke” would have been impressed. This was the Luke Kennard the Grizzlies coveted: a three-point shooter so deadly that his gravitational pull alone makes up for his modest skills in all other departments. A shooter who can sway a playoff game, and perhaps a series.

The Grizzlies got Luke Kennard because that was the two-strike single the deadline offered them after big swings and misses on OG Anunoby and Mikal Bridges. They got him because they needed another guaranteed contract on the books this offseason to pursue bigger summer trade targets. But they also got him because he has the potential to solve their two greatest weaknesses: three-point shooting and half-court offense. How has Kennard’s addition helped thus far in those departments?

Three-point shooting

Before Luke Kennard first took the floor for the Grizzlies, they averaged 11.2 three-pointers per game on 34.4% shooting over a 55-game span. In the 20 games since, they’re hitting 13.6 threes on 36.5% shooting. They ranked 21st in threes per game before Kennard’s debut on February 12th. They rank seventh since.

This is not just an uptick relative to the league. It’s also a historic stretch for the franchise.  Six of the 20 games with the most threes in franchise history have happened this March – all with Kennard on the floor. The Grizzlies made 17 threes versus the Rockets on March 1st (tied for 20th in franchise history); they hit 18 triples against the Clippers on March 5th, the Warriors on March 9th, the Heat on March 15th, and the Warriors again on March 18th (all tied for 12th in franchise history); then there was the franchise-record 25 against Houston on March 24th.

The Grizzlies are averaging 14.5 threes per game on 38.7% shooting this month, with 217 total treys. If they can hit just two threes in the final two games of March, they will break the franchise record for threes in a month (218 in April 2021), per Stat Muse.

So, yes, it appears that Luke Kennard has helped with the three-point shooting. Not only is he hitting 2.9 threes per game himself, but he’s also generating space for other shooters to let it fly.

Just look at the attention he drew to set up Dillon Brooks’ game-tying triple at the end of regulation in San Antonio.

But does Luke’s impact on three-point shooting also provide a boost to the Grizzlies’ overall half-court offense?

Grizzlies half-court offense

The fatal flaw in the Grizzlies’ title hopes last season was their languishing half-court offense that ranked 22nd in the league. Despite a stated emphasis to improve in that department, the Grizzlies are stuck at 22nd again this season, per Cleaning the Glass.

But if you run the numbers since Kennard’s debut on February 12th, the Grizzlies jump to 13th in the league for half-court offense (they were up to ninth before Tuesday’s 113-108 slog of a win against Orlando when the half-court offense was putrid). They now average 101.2 points per 100 possessions in the half-court, a huge leap from the team’s 95.3 rating before Kennard’s arrival.

While you can attribute that rise to many factors, the spacing and efficiency Kennard provides clearly plays a part.

This quote from Damichael Cole’s recent story in the Commercial Appeal illustrates one specific way that Kennard unlocks the half-court offense: his pairing with fellow elite shooter Desmond Bane:

"“Adding Kennard gives Memphis two of the best shooters in the NBA. Desmond Bane also made five of seven 3-pointers against the Rockets, and he’s on pace to shooter better than 40% on 3-pointers for the third straight season to start his career…When Kennard first arrived to Memphis, Jenkins staggered him and Bane by having only one of them on the floor at most times. Now that Kennard’s role has grown, they are playing more minutes together, and their teammates are noticing the difference it provides.”"

To hammer home Cole’s point: the two-man lineup for Kennard and Bane has an incredible 123.2 offensive rating.

It goes beyond Bane, though. The Kennard-Ja Morant pairing has a 124.9 offensive rating. Kennard and Jaren Jackson Jr. are at 119.4. Both of those players particularly benefit from the spacing Kennard generates. It is too soon to crown Luke Kennard as the savior of the Grizzlies half-court offense, but he is clearly having the positive effect GM Zach Kleiman envisioned when he traded for him.

Kennard comes with defensive limitations. He can’t get his own shot in the paint or carry a heavy playmaking burden. But he can shoot it like few others in this world. That could revive the Memphis title hopes left for dead just a few weeks ago.