DETROIT – Steve Clifford thinks his old pal Stan Van Gundy’s shooting guard position in in pretty good hands.
In Avery Bradley, he’s got a player he views as a superb defender but more than just a stopper. And in Luke Kennard, the Pistons have a rookie the Bobcats considered long and hard with the 11th pick before nabbing Kentucky freshman Malik Monk one spot before the Pistons took Kennard last June.
How can Bradley, or any individual, affect team defense?
“Tremendously,” Clifford said before the Pistons faded in the second half after building an 18-point halftime lead in Wednesday’s Little Caesars Arena preseason opener. “When you take somebody who’s elite at what he does, it can have a profound impact on the other players.”
Clifford speaks from experience as the Hornets have been a markedly better defensive team over the past few seasons when they’ve had the oft-injured Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in the lineup.
“(Bradley) is, in my opinion, a lot more than (a defensive stopper),” he said. “If you go back through his career, he’s had a number of absolutely enormous offensive games in playoffs and games where they were playing to make the playoffs. I think he’s one of what you have to have today to win, which is a two-way player. His defense can be good, but he’s also a terrific offensive player.”
Bradley, a 39 percent 3-point shooter in Boston last season, struggled with his perimeter shot against Charlotte, going 6 of 14 overall and 1 of 4 from the 3-point arc. Van Gundy waved off that part of his night and smiled at the impact his defensive mindset had on teammates.
“He’s a really, really good defender and he’s going to do that every night and he’s also going to shoot the ball well,” he said. “When guys get their legs under ’em, he’s going to shoot the ball really, really well. Luke will shoot the ball even better. I’m not too worried about that – and his defense is good.”
Clifford doesn’t have personnel authority in Charlotte as Van Gundy does with the Pistons, but he wouldn’t have registered any objections had Hornets management chosen Kennard, who played his college basketball in their back yard at Duke.
“Terrific shooter, high IQ and for me, personally, I always love the guys that have a football background,” Clifford said of Kennard, a high school quarterback who threw right-handed despite the fact he’s a left-handed shooter. “I think they have more of an aptitude for details, for execution, and I think you see that very much in how he plays.”
Kennard showed off some of his canny offensive ability, scoring 10 points in his NBA debut.
“He was OK,” Van Gundy said. “He didn’t look overwhelmed by any means. He had some trouble guarding Monk. So it’s his first time out there. He’s got a long way to go. Certainly wasn’t bad, but he’ll keep improving. He’s going to be a good player.”