Can Kennard Fix The Grizzlies?


As the final hours of the 2023 trade deadline began to dwindle, the Memphis Grizzlies found themselves at a crossroads. The last time this franchise acquired a player via trade was in 2020 lest we forget.

It’s no secret how that turned out. In his only season in Memphis, Justise Winslow played in 26 games and averaged 6.8 points. What a move, right?

From the very get go, this trade always felt rushed by Zach Kleiman. However, this pressure to bring additional talent to the team wasn’t new. This had been simmering since the franchise made the move to Memphis in 2001.

After whiffing on his first big acquisition, the deadline would evolve for Kleiman. Rather than trade for additive talent to help now, he would often trade away major rotation players in an effort to free up minutes for some of their younger developing talent.

Fast forward to February 9th, 2023.

The ripple effects of the newest Kevin Durant trade were still permeating around the Western Conference that morning. Practically every team jockeying for placement behind Memphis made a trade. We’re not talking minor moves either, but rather trades that indicated teams were gunning for a championship.

Kleiman’s response? He traded for Luke Kennard.

The asking price for the six-year shooting guard? Danny Green (already bought out) and three second round picks.

The deal is downright beautiful when you consider the simplicity of its configuration. With the variance in second round picks, Memphis shipped out next to nothing. In Kennard, they got back a player that drastically improves two of their biggest areas of weakness: their shooting and their bench production.

Needs Improvement: Shooting, Shooting, and More Shooting

There’s no other way to put it: the Grizzlies have not been good shooting the basketball this season.

In fact, you might even say that they’ve done a bad job at it. Which is odd considering they’re still the number two seed in the West.

As it currently stands Memphis is ranked 19th in the league in field goal percentage, 24th in the league in three-point percentage, and 30th in the league in free throw percentage. They’re making 47.0%, 34.5%, and 71.8% respectively.

For comparison here are the league averages:

  • Field goal percentage: 47.4%
  • Three-point percentage: 36.0%
  • Free throw percentage: 78.1%


As you start down the roster, it becomes increasingly clear just how much shooting help this team needs.

This isn’t to say they have no shooting.

They have one of the best shooters in the entire league on the roster in Desmond Bane. He’s also the only player on the roster making over 90% of his free throws this year, and he finished last season second in three-point percentage.

The league leader in this category last season?

Luke Kennard.

On the season, Kennard is averaging 46.1/44.9/95.8 shooting splits, which already makes him the best shooter in two categories on this roster. Don’t expect a setback from him anytime soon either, as he’s sustained this level of shooting starting his rookie year.

Since coming into the league, Kennard has never shot less than 43.8% from the field on lower than 5.9 attempts. Never less than 39.4% from deep on lower than 2.7 attempts. And never less than 83.6% on free throws with an average of 1 attempt per game.

With Bane starting and Kennard providing seriously needed bench support, Memphis has not one, but two elite shooters for teams to worry about at all times.

Needs Improvement: Bench Production

It’s no secret that Memphis needs bench help desperately. Their unit is currently ranked 22nd in the league in terms of net rating.

With the exodus of Kyle Anderson and De’Anthony Melton, the Grizzlies’ bench was depleted of most of their talent in that department. They chose to roll the dice in the draft and focus on inner player development to fill the void.

Frankly, it hasn’t worked.

At the halfway mark of the season, only Brandon Clarke and Santi Aldama are reliable bench guys. Tyus Jones has seemed to plateau, and to say Ziaire Williams is experiencing a sophomore slump is the understatement of the year.

Enter Luke Kennard.

Kennard has come off the bench in 26 games and has averaged 21 minutes, 8.2 points, 1.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 0.5 steals. He’s attempting four shots from deep as well.

Unfortunately, the odd man out of the rotation is most likely John Konchar. Look, when you get 22.4 min/game like he does, you have to produce more. Sadly, “producing more” does not seem to be something Jitty can do at this point.

In 49 games this season Konchar only attempted more than three 3PA in 19 games. Kennard, meanwhile, attempted more than three 3PA in 26 games out of 37. Jitty is a fine tenth man in the rotation; he shouldn’t be relied on for more than that. The skills just aren’t there.

If you’re Memphis, your bench should be full of players that compliment Ja Morant to the highest degree. With his level of floor spacing and his shooting capabilities, Luke Kennard is the ideal player you should want on the floor with 12.

Sample Size: Two Games

Before the All-Star Break, Memphis had two games to get an idea of what life with Luke Kennard would look like. If these first two games are any indicator, it’s going to go well.

In his Grizzlies debut he wasn’t overly productive, but he was thrown to the fire from the get-go.

Against the Celtics, he played 21:36 minutes and contributed four points, two rebounds, and one assist. For his first appearance with the team he could’ve done much worst.

Plus the fact that he played over 20 minutes out of the gate should be really encouraging.

Now, if the Kennard fit continues to look like it did during his second outing in a Memphis uniform? Well now they might be on to something.

In the Jazz game, he saw 20:48 minutes of action in which he logged nine points, two assists, and one rebound. In these minutes Kennard attempted four threes, successfully converted each of his three free throws, and finished the game with .50/.50/1.00 shooting splits.

It took Kennard all of two games to improve this roster.

He was the best shooter the Grizzlies had in Utah, and he already seems comfortable letting the ball fly from deep. He also went 4/4 from the free throw line over both games; he’s not just getting to the line. He’s making his shots.

Even thought the two game sample size is small, you can’t deny that Luke Kennard has improved this Grizzlies roster.

Early Analysis: Luke Kennard, A Positive For Memphis

I’m guilty of constant optimism, so I most likely would’ve found a way to like this trade regardless. When you take the time and watch Luke Kennard’s game, though, the fit becomes apparent.

Now, defense is the biggest knock against him.

But is Memphis’ number one ranked defense what you think this team needs to worry about right now? When you have Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, and Desmond Bane on your roster, masking any defensive deficiencies that Kennard may have will be easier than you think.

Plus, there’s no way you can afford to have this kind of player and then not play him.

Look back through Kennard’s career. His on/off court numbers have been positive every season except the 2020/2021 season.

This team needed some help, so his continued integration should remain a major focus for Memphis coming out of the All-Star Break. It may be that he’s the kind of player to help them get through a seven game playoff series.

A nine man rotation of Morant, Bane, Brooks, Jackson Jr., Adams, Jones, Kennard, Aldama and Clarke could compete against just about anyone in the playoffs. By the end of the season, Kleiman’s trade for Luke Kennard may end up completing the Memphis Grizzlies.

Grizz Lead (@Grizz_Lead) / Twitter

About Luke Hatmaker

Luke is based out of Nashville, TN where he lives with his cat, Dr. Alan Grant. In addition to contributing to Grizz Lead, he is one of the hosts of the No Bluffin' Podcast for the Grizz 901 Podcast Network and is also a cast member the RPG Radio Show Podcast.

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