This under-the-radar trade deadline deal has been a steal for Memphis

Memphis Grizzlies (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)
Memphis Grizzlies (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images) /

The 2023 trade deadline shook up the entire western conference. The Timberwolves and the Lakers made major roster moves to save their seasons. The Clippers added Russell Westbrook. The Warriors got back Gary Payton II. The Suns traded for Kevin Durant, and the Mavericks gave up all they had to give to add Kyrie Irving to their backcourt.

Fans wanted the Grizzlies to make a splash, too. Two players linked to Memphis were O.G. Anunoby and Mikal Bridges, but instead, the Grizzlies acquired Luke Kennard in a three-team deal with the Clippers and the Rockets. All it cost them to get the league’s leading three-point shooter was Danny Green, who never really made it into the rotation, and three second-round picks. It was an under-the-radar deal but an absolute steal for the Grizzlies, as it turns out that Kennard is a great fit. At 26, he is a little older than their core of Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, and Jaren Jackson Jr., but he still fits the Grizzlies’ timeline.

Most importantly, though, Kennard addresses some of the team’s biggest weaknesses: bench production, scoring in the half-court, and three-point shooting. The last is obviously Kennard’s biggest strength. Being a sharpshooter from three is what he is known for. He led the league in three-point percentage last season and is right on track to become the first player since Kyle Korver to do that in two consecutive seasons.

Kennard’s offense has proven useful for the Memphis Grizzlies

In the same season that Kennard led the league in three-point percentage, Bane finished second. They are both already in the top 15 all-time in career three-point percentage at numbers 6 (Kennard) and 13 (Bane). That the Grizzlies are combining two of the best shooters in the game is not a coincidence.

Before the trade, Bane was the only player on the roster shooting more than 40 percent from three, followed by Tyus Jones with 38.9 percent. Thus, many of the available three-point shots went to Santi Aldama, John Konchar, and Dillon Brooks. All of them can certainly make big threes, but they also miss plenty of them, and the Grizzlies ranked near the bottom of the league in three-point percentage all season long. In just 19 games, Kennard has already improved that by giving the Grizzlies another sharpshooter next to Bane.

While expanding the team’s overall offensive arsenal, Kennard also relieves some of the weight on Bane’s shoulders. Bane already carries a giant scoring load, especially when Morant misses games, and has to act as a playmaker besides being their only long-range shooter. Having someone there to have his back behind the three-point line makes Bane’s life easier.

So far, Kennard has been shooting 55 percent from three in a Grizzlies jersey and had a 30-point game in which he shot 10-11 from long range. In that game, he set the Grizzlies’ franchise record for made threes in a game and became only the second player to make 10 threes without attempting a single two-point shot. He also joined Klay Thompson and Ty Lawson as the only players in history to make 10 threes on 90 percent shooting. That is quite the accomplishment, but Kennard further topped it by also becoming the first player ever to hit 10 threes in less than 25 minutes of playing time.

The same efficiency Kennard shows from long-range is visible all across his game. He makes the right plays, makes solid passes, and shoots free throws at 93.8 percent since he came to Memphis. Kennard is not the type of player who gets to the line a lot, but when he does, he gets the easy points reliably. That is a welcome change for the Grizzlies, who are not a great free-throw shooting team.

Similarly, the Grizzlies are not very good at scoring in a half-court offense. They thrive in the open court, but Kennard gives them an easy scoring option in the set offense. Since he is such a talented spot-up shooter and stretches the floor, he complements Morant’s skillset well. Defenses can either risk Morant getting to the rim and dunking on someone, or they can go into the paint to help and leave Kennard open to drill a three. This then becomes even more difficult to figure out when Kennard and Bane are both on the floor together. You can leave neither of them open, but you also need to protect the paint because that is where the Grizzlies make their living.

Kennard was a low-risk acquisition for Memphis that could pay big dividends in the playoffs.

Kennard is more than just a spot-up shooter, though. He can shoot just as reliably off of movement, and thanks to his quick release, he is great at flying around screens to get into his shots. On top of that, Kennard can also create his own shot off the dribble, either behind the arc or around the free-throw line, as well as set up his teammates. Kennard already seems really comfortable with his new squad, which is pushing him to be aggressive on the court. He is taking more shots than he did in Los Angeles, but the more comfortable he gets, the more he is willing to step away from just shooting threes.

If he can sustain the level of playmaking he has shown in the last few games, Kennard would give the Grizzlies another playmaker and facilitator behind Morant, Bane, and Jones. Having a fourth playmaker would massively strengthen Memphis’ bench unit beyond the scoring Kennard provides. As of now, he is averaging 10.4 points as a Grizzly, which makes him their second-best bench scorer after Jones.

Kennard has also shown that he can step up as a scorer when one of the go-to guys is out or having a bad night. He put up 16 points on 75 percent shooting from the field and 80 percent three-point shooting, along with 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and a steal against the Orlando Magic. Morant missed the game, Jackson was in foul trouble early on, and Jones and Brooks both struggled to score. As a result, it was not a pretty game towards the end, and Kennard was the only bench player who put up more than 10 points. He and Xavier Tillman played their roles exceptionally well and contributed crucial production to get Memphis another win.

One thing that can be held against Kennard is that he is not a great defender, but that is a bearable issue compared to all the positives he brings to the table. Besides, it is not like he is just outright bad. He competes on defense every night and gets the occasional steal, while the Grizzlies’ top defense can usually make up for any deficiencies.

Trading for Kennard was a small move compared to what some of the Grizzlies’ competition pulled off, but it is definitely paying off already. For the rest of the season, Memphis’ regular starting lineup will be Morant, Bane, Brooks, Jackson, and Tillman. That leaves Jones, Kennard, Aldama, David Roddy, and Konchar to come off the bench.

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With Kennard, that rotation looks much better than it does without him. Especially with Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke out, Kennard’s bench production might just be the game-changer Memphis needs to march into the postseason.