Mitchell shines, but Pistons happy with Kennard
Auburn Hills — In hindsight, Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy seems as satisfied with his decision than he was on draft night, when he selected Luke Kennard with the 12th overall pick. The Pistons also strongly considered guard Donovan Mitchell, who went to the Denver Nuggets with the next pick and was traded to the Utah Jazz on draft night.
Things have worked out pretty well for Mitchell, who has started 37 games for the Jazz (19-28) and is leading all rookies in scoring, at 19.2 points, and adding 3.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists. Inevitably, Pistons fans gravitate toward the comparisons between Kennard and Mitchell, ahead of their first meeting on Wednesday.
The two players’ skill sets are similar, but the Pistons’ greatest need ahead of the draft was 3-point shooting — and Kennard shot 44 percent at Duke — making him the better fit at the time. The debate continues to rage, but Van Gundy is happy for Mitchell, but resolute that Kennard is the right fit for them.
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″(Mitchell ) is a really good player and he’s had a great rookie year. We’re happy for him and happy with the way Luke’s played,” Van Gundy said Tuesday. “I don’t know (that 3-point shooting was the major difference); there’s a lot of factors that went into it.”
Kennard has been a good reserve for the Pistons, averaging 6.8 points and shooting 44 percent from beyond the arc. He’s putting together more consistent performances and looking to become a more integral part of the offense.
Mitchell, though, has taken advantage of his opportunities in Salt Lake City. He has become a pivotal piece for the Jazz, and has surged to become one of the best rookies in the league this year. It’s not just the Pistons who passed on him; it’s also 11 other teams.
“The kid’s had a great year and he could very well be the rookie of the year. It’s going to come down to I would think him and (the Sixers’ Ben) Simmons,” Van Gundy said of Mitchell. “He’s gotten a great opportunity; they had some injuries that created some early opportunity for him — and he took advantage of it.
″(Dante) Exum went down early on, they lost (Gordon) Hayward to free agency, which they didn’t know at the time. I’ve said it before: Opportunity is a big thing for guys and he’s gotten a great opportunity there.
Pistons vs. Jazz
Tipoff: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
Outlook: The Pistons (22-23) have lost five straight and eight of their last 10. The Jazz (19-28) have the league’s second-worst road record (5-19) and have lost seven of 10.