Little Caesars Arena has a secret ingredient -- and it’s not six-time All-Star Blake Griffin or two-time All-Star Andre Drummond or reigning Coach of the Year Dwane Casey.
No, it’s not the return of the signature pretzel crust pizza, either.
The X-factor to the Pistons’ winning formula is Luke Kennard, the former Duke standout and No. 12 pick in the 2017 draft who has largely underperformed throughout his first two NBA seasons.
Kennard’s effective field goal percentage of 71.9 percent since the All-Star break is the highest among players with at least 50 field goal attempts. Yes, No. 1 for a stat that “adjusts for the fact that a three-point field goal is worth one more point than a two-point field goal.” In other words, Kennard has been knocking down three-pointers more effectively than any other shooter over the last 12 days.
This is good news for Detroit, the surging, sixth-ranked team in the Eastern Conference with a projected first-round playoff matchup against the Victor Oladipo-less Pacers.
This is better news for Griffin, Drummond, Casey and the new Little Caesar’s Arena -- a core that figured to propel the organization back to basketball relevance and into the postseason for the first time since 2015-16.
The Pistons have won nine of their last 11 games, a stretch in which Kennard is averaging 14.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists on 49.5 percent shooting from the field and 48.4 percent shooting from three-point range.
Griffin is having the best season of his career. Drummond has had a double-double in all but seven games this year.
Casey has beaten his former team -- the second-place Toronto Raptors -- twice. Reggie Jackson was the NBA’s Mr. February after averaging 19.7 points on 45.5 percent three-point shooting throughout this past month.
Kennard, though, has been the difference.
The 6-foot-5, 22-year-old shooting guard is finally playing like a lottery pick. After missing over a month early in the campaign due to a right shoulder sprain, Kennard has found the form that made him the leading scorer (19.5 PPG) on a 2016-17 Blue Devils team that also had Jayson Tatum, Grayson Allen, Frank Jackson and Harry Giles.
Cleveland could attest to Kennard’s shooting prowess on Saturday -- a 26-point display of buckets…
Detroit traded its starting shooting guard, Reggie Bullock, to the Lakers at the deadline. It also dealt Stanley Johnson and acquired Thon Maker. Those moves have opened the door to Kennard’s long-awaited production…
Kennard and consistency have yet to go hand-in-hand. A one-month sample size is never going to factor into any long-term conclusions, but it’s been enough to equip the Pistons with a fourth scoring option behind Griffin, Drummond and Jackson.
More importantly, it’s injected excitement into an organization still looking for its first playoff win in 11 years, when Richard “Rip” Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince were household names.