Draft Day Thoughts: Ryan Kelly and the Need for Shooting

Darius Soriano —  June 28, 2013

The Lakers used their lone selection in the draft to select Duke’s Ryan Kelly. The six foot, eleven inch big man was rated as a mid to late 2nd rounder by most talent evaluators, though Kevin Pelton of ESPN did have him ranked as the 38th best prospect in the draft.

Putting aside those things, it’s best to get this out of the way early: we shouldn’t expect much from the 48th pick in the draft regardless of his name recognition, his pedigree, or his skill set. The draft often symbolizes hope in that any player selected is fresh and new, representing a move towards the future. Even for a later drafted player, there’s a desire to think of what’s possible with a tilt towards the positive rather than simply understanding that many players drafted this late don’t pan out.

As Lakers’ fans, we should know this better than most. Over the past several years the Lakers have used second round picks on Derrick Caracter, Devin Ebanks, Andrew Goudelock, Darius Morris, Darius Johnson-Odom, and Robert Sacre. Of those picks, only Sacre remains actively on the team as he was tendered with his qualifying offer before Thursday’s draft. Of the others, Caracter was long ago waived and hasn’t since made it back to the big leagues, Johnson-Odom was waived last season and finished the year in Europe, while Ebanks, Goudelock, and Morris all spent most of last year on the bench or in the D-League and weren’t made qualifying offers for next season.

All of these players, at one point or time, offered promise as potential contributors. And all of them, save Sacre, are no longer on the team. Even Sacre, who can be a useful 4th or 5th big man in the NBA, is a low ceiling player who, if he’s seeing significant time, likely isn’t positively impacting the team in a lot of ways.

With all those qualifiers out of the way, Kelly can still be a useful player in the NBA and the hope is that his relatively high skill in certain areas of the game do, in fact, translate well to this level and make him someone who can contribute quickly and for a sustained period of time.

What are those skills? Well, Kelly is a shooter and he brings that skill to the table in a big man’s body. As mentioned at the top and when we briefly touched on the pick yesterday, Kelly is nearly seven feet tall (in shoes) and shot 42% on three pointers in his senior season at Duke. These two traits, when combined, represent a template for a very useful type of player in today’s NBA, and specifically in the types of sets the Lakers ran last season.

If the past several years have taught us anything it’s that the NBA has become more and more perimeter oriented. That doesn’t only mean that the game is dominated by wing players (though that would be true as LeBron, Durant, and other superstars prove), but also that the ability to shoot the ball and create space on offense to open up the lane and make defenses pay for helping near the rim are more important than ever.

Last season, the Lakers tried to generate this spacing by giving players the green light to shoot when open. That confidence inspired some average to above average shooting numbers from players via increased repetition and confidence, but as the Spurs series showed, that did not translate to respect in how the defense played the Lakers. What a player like Kelly can (hopefully) do, is provide the type of shooting that either A). makes defenses pay for sagging into the paint to help in the post, when big men dive to the paint in the P&R, and when penetration occurs and/or B). keeps defenses honest by having them not help as much when the Lakers are going to these actions.

Considering the offensive sets the Lakers like to run, a player like Kelly instantly becomes someone who can see playing time should he perform his best skills to his best ability. This is even more true based off the position he plays. The two dominant types of sets the Lakers ran last season were the spread P&R and actions out of the HORNS formations. In both of these sets, the second big man plays a crucial role as both a floor spacer and as a decision maker as a release valve when the first options aren’t there.

For example, when the Lakers run the spread P&R, the PF is typically the big man who circles back towards the top of the key area from the weak side as the ball handler (looking to turn the corner) and the Center (diving to the cup) both fulfill their roles. Most defensive schemes call for the weak side big to step into the lane to help on the dive (either as the top defender bumping the roll man or as the back line man protecting the rim). When that defender helps, it’s the PF who is often open near the top of the key or behind the arc. One only needs to look at Pau Gasol, Earl Clark, or Antawn Jamison’s shot charts to see what type of field goal attempts playing this spot leads to.

Meanwhile, in HORNS both big men are stationed at the elbows of the lane and are used as both screeners and decision makers while the rest of the play develops. Usually, it’s the PF who receives the first pass while the C works off the ball as both a screener and then a secondary option ducking into the paint looking for an entry pass in a high-low set.

Kelly, based off his skill set, can play the PF role in both these sets with relative ease. His ability to stretch the floor instantly translates to what the Lakers want to do in the P&R as he’s the guy who can hit shots both circling back to the top of the key or standing stationary on the weak side wing as the defense collapses to the paint. Meanwhile, in HORNS sets, Kelly has a high enough basketball IQ to play as a passer from the elbow. And, if defenses collapse off him in order to take away passing angles or to clog the paint so the various duck-ins and curls into the lane are taken away, Kelly’s shooting ability is again a weapon as he can simply take (and make) that open mid-range jumper when his man backs off.

Of course, basketball is a two-way game and though Kelly is a nice fit on offense his limitations as an athlete will likely give him issues both defensively and when rebounding his position. Big men in the today’s NBA are asked to not only protect the rim defensively, but must also show hedge and recover skills in the P&R and be able to go from the paint to the three point line to close out on shooters (while also sliding with them if they put the ball on the floor attacking that close out). Kelly, for all intents and purposes, isn’t a good enough athlete to accomplish these things consistently. He’s a hard worker and is smart enough to understand positioning, angles, and timing, but his physical limitations will likely hamper his ability to ever be anything more than “average” on that end of the floor. Maybe, with the right personnel flanking him (cough, Dwight Howard, cough) average will be enough, but that remains to be seen.

Ultimately, however, Kelly was picked for his offense. And, based off his size, skills and smarts, he should be able to find a niche in this league as a stretch big man. The Lakers are a team who, last year, showed they lacked players who could knock down a shot and, based off injuries also had issues with depth on their front line. Kelly checks off both of these boxes which, again, can’t be downplayed.

The NBA is evolving into a league where offenses want every player on the floor to be able to threaten the defense in a way that creates space for others to generate open, makable shots. Whether that’s a post player or a penetrating wing drawing defenders to the paint so outside shooters get open looks or marksmen from behind the arc who keep defenders honest enough that those post players and wing penetrators have the room they need in getting to and finishing in the paint. Kelly is a player who can do the latter.

Whether the rest of his game is NBA ready enough that he’s able to see the floor to impact the game with this skill remains to be seen

Darius Soriano

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to Draft Day Thoughts: Ryan Kelly and the Need for Shooting

  1. What I love about Kelly is how smart a player he is. Kelly developed this through four years of college experience playing in high-level games against top competition. He’s played with great college perimeter players, including Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler, Seth Curry and Kyrie Irving, so he’s got experience playing off good talent. He makes safe but smart passes (tons of hockey assists). He’s a pesky defender on the perimeter with his length against opposing stretch 4s.

    So keep all my love for Kelly in mind when I say I’m seriously worried about a few things. First, his recurring foot injuries (missed part of senior year and end of junior year, surgery after senior season). Second, the injuries add to another problem: lack of lift and quickness. Kelly seemed painfully slow against college athletes. Third, while he’s a big guy, he was only an okay rebounder at Duke; whenever Mason Plumlee went out of the game and Kelly had to patrol the paint, Duke’s rebounding went in the toilet.

    And finally, Kelly is a very capable shooter, but he’s not Steve Novak or Kyle Korver or Ryan Anderson. He never dominated the college game offensively with his shooting, like those other guys did; Kelly was mostly a complementary piece that pitched in an open three once or twice a game (his senior home game against Miami as the outlier). So while he’s a nice shooter, he isn’t totally lights out either.

    I still like the gamble and would LOVE for him to succeed, but there are some definite concerns as well.


  2. Darius, your points are well made but who did you see in the conference finals of either league that matches your description of Kelly? It is not good enough for someone to be just a shooter. Players also need to be an impact player on defense to earn playing time deep into the playoffs. The absolute lack of athleticism is going to hurt the Lakers whether or not they resign Howard. It is possible to find useful players later in the draft if you are willing to wait for them to develop. The Lakers have not been showing that kind of patience.


  3. darius: in reference to your cough, dwight howard, cough and in a couple of weeks, it will be howard who? despite mitch kupchak’s optimism, gotta love it though.

    like draft day afterthoughts, years from now, howard who, where, when and how would best be answered by what could have been.

    appreciate your analysis of the lone laker draft pick. who knows is basically what you are describing. pretty much the storyline of the lakers in general today.

    Go Lakers


  4. Baylor Fan,
    Ask any Miami Heat beat writer about Ray Allen’s defense this past season and he’d tell you his “impact” on that end was pretty much non-existent. I’m not trying to say Kelly is a shooter in Allen’s class or make any other sort of comparison of him to any other player in the league. And, I’m pretty sure I was straight forward about expectations towards a #48 pick.

    All that said, there are no such things as teams who go 10 deep in their rotation with two way players who impact the game on both sides of the floor. Team building and roster construction is often about trade offs. It’s about assembling as much talent as possible, but also finding complementary pieces who can create lineups that are greater than the sum of their parts.

    The Lakers need several things to get back to contention. I’m not saying Kelly will be an integral part of that in any way. But, what I am saying is that the specific skill set that he brings to the table has value in today’s NBA, at least offensively. As I concluded the post, it remains to be seen if the rest of his game is adequate enough for him to see the floor where his offensive skill set can have value just as it remains to be seen if he can even perform his best skills at a high enough level where even if he did see the floor he’d earn repeat minutes.


  5. Manny: “Kelly seemed painfully slow against college athletes.”

    If that’s the case, he’ll seem like a statue against professionals.


  6. Yeah, a slow 6-11 guy with surgery-level foot problems seems like a questionable move. As I said yesterday and as Darius suggests today, Kelly might fit with Howard. But a guy like this playing with Pau…I would question that. Remember Troy Murphy?


  7. Now we are going to bag on the decision to draft Kelly?

    The only thing we should be arguing about is, “Was there someone better we could have drafted with that pick?” If there was a clearly better choice, then that should be our conversation. This bagging on the guy because he is one-dimensional seems rather lame. He was the 48th pick in a weak draft and addresses one of our real needs.


  8. Craig,

    As I said in the other thread, the Lakers have a serious need for cheap, athletic swingmen, like, say, James Ennis, who went at 50 and then was acquired by Miami. Kelly is slow and lacks athletic ability, thus exacerbating an existing roster problem. He also can’t play in summer league due to having had foot surgery. Finally, at 48 you are looking for playable rotation guys since you are not going to get high-ceiling players. The Lakers at present already have 3 PFs.

    Does that mean it was a mistake? Not necessarily. Kupchak surely has specific cheap wings that he will target in FA, and he may think that there are undrafted FAs that he can get who are good as Ennis. But also note what Darius said, and what I said yesterday: a guy like Kelly makes the most sense on a team with Howard–and as you have pointed out to us, oh, once or twice, none of us knows what Howard is thinking and we have no control over what he will do.


  9. that should be our conversation.

    This isn’t your call.


  10. rr: I don’t think the Lakers plan on having 3 PF’s once the season starts. One of DH, PG or JH won’t be on the team next year. Kelly could be the 3rd big. And as much sense as he makes for Dwight he makes the same for Pau. Pau’s no stranger to finding his fellow front court player in scoring position.

    Lakers shot the 3rd most 3s last year, finished 19th in percentage. If they’re going to take them the front office has to find guys who can make them. Kelly did in college. Looking at other Duke grads in the league gives Lakers fans hope that Kelly will have a nice long career. Solid pick at 48 and could be a steal with an opportunity and right coaching.


  11. Or mine, of course.


  12. rr,
    Now that is a more productive conversation. The only nit I could pick with your logic is that a wing player will have to play some real minutes next year – what with our superior depth and all – and perhaps that is not the best place to put a rookie near the end of the draft. I like your thought that Mitch would be looking to sign someone, like say Wes Johnson – mentioned several times in several threads.

    I also like the idea that we are drafting a player that fits Mike D’Antoni and also could be a selling point to Dwight Howard that we are not ignoring his preferences.


  13. Not bagging on the pick Craig W – if your comment was directed at me.

    And, you are right, he’s the 48th pick in a weak draft. (I noted that myself earlier).

    But … if he’s slow vs. college players, he’ll be hard pressed to give the statues in front of Staples a game … just sayin.

    That said, Kupchak is a fine GM in my book, and I’m sure he had his reasons for picking the guy. Maybe as somebody to pound on during training camp?


  14. This dude is slow unathletic and already injured its a 48 pick, i dont expect anything out of him, a taller and even worse version of Adam Morrison, i dont expect him to be on the team on opening day. The Lakers had to pick something at the bottom of the barrel regardless so this was it.


  15. Nice thoughts on Kelly, but I think we are missing another important point here. Kelly being drafted by LAL despite the team’s immediate need on perimeter defense means two things:

    1) they’re running an offense oriented system ALA D’Antoni’s pre-Melo Knicks.
    2) Lakers are probably going to sell the idea of having Amare’s role in the pre-Melo Knicks to Dwight.

    Having a guy like Kelly theoretically makes LA one step closer to that look of D’Antoni’s team, where Dwight could possibly thrive.


  16. Yeah, it boggles my mind that of all the things we needed, we got a long (we have that in spades with DH and PG) non-athletic (we have that too), injury prone (wow! we got this as well!) player who is also relatively old (well, young compared to the rest of our roster) and thus will probably show very little growth in his game.

    I don’t know. I mean, I know it’s the 48th pick, and we probably won’t keep him since we don’t want our cap filled and all but wow, I’m sure we could have just plucked a young athlete and just hoped he’d develop as opposed to getting somebody who really, even given the best reasonable scenario is going to have a hard time sticking around.


  17. Fern – Ammo is an apt comparison.

    A dude who could score in college but couldn’t get his shot off in the NBA.

    I think Ammo was an even worse deal, however … he went high in a first round, didn’t he?


  18. “selling point to Dwight Howard that we are not ignoring his preferences” – This is like a waiter walking up to a table and saying that the kitchen and bar are closed, but the good news sir is that we can make your coffee exactly the way you want.
    Fern/Harold: I understand your points, but unfortunately he probably will be on our roster on opening day.


  19. The 22-year-old missed 13 games last season because of complications stemming from surgery on his right foot last summer. He required another surgery after the season was over to put a bigger screw into his foot to fix his fractured metatarsal and is 11 weeks into the 12-week recovery timetable, meaning that Kelly was unable to participate in a pre-draft workout for L.A.



  20. I felt the same way – initially, my reaction was disappointment that we didn’t take Ennis – but having thought about it for a day, I’m happy with the Kelly pick considering the context. We tried the athletic potential card with Ebanks, likely superior to Ennis. Most often, it’s the niche players with a defined NBA skill set (rather than those with great physical tools but whose IQs or development haven’t caught up) that end up carving out nice roles for themselves within a proper system (e.g. Bonner). Marc Gasol’s just don’t happen very often at 48.

    Darius – whatever happened to Xavier, the FB&G contributor and coach in Spain? He used to have some fantastic insight into the Euro basketball world. I remember him mentioning the 3rd Gasol brother a couple years ago. Would be curious to see if Xavier has any insight into new and upcoming European players.


  21. Ding Tweeted the other day that the Lakers might amnesty Pau if Howard stays, which if true would mean that MDA probably sees Metta in a Shawn Marion smallball 4 role. Then they would be trying to add a wing in FA and as noted, use Howard in the Amare role. Howard is actually better suited to doing that than he is to being a traditional low post guy…but all indicators are that Howard himself does not see it as such.

    Also, as said so many times last year, the SSOL in PHX teams were young and fast –Joe Johnson/Shawn Marion/Amare Stoudemire/Leandro Barbosa, and Nash.

    So, to address Kevin’s point:

    1) I wasn’t counting Howard. I was counting Clark. No, Clark is not technically on the team as 7/1 but I expect that he will be if the Lakers want him (and Howard is not on the team as of 7/1, either).
    2) A three-big rotation of Pau, Hill, and a slow rookie with bad feet would be a disaster of epic proportions on defense. You would need Howard’s skill to cover for a guy like Kelly. Pau’s best work was when he was paired with a physical, athletic 4–Odom. Playing a 33-year-old sore-kneed Pau with a taller, rookie version of Matt Bonner would be like throwing two lit matches onto a gasoline spill.

    Again: after the AS-B last year, the Lakers allowed 115.8 points per 100 possessions with Howard off the floor, and 100 with him on it.


  22. Warren Wee Lim June 28, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    I like the Kelly drafting. He fits a need. IF he can produce thats exactly just what we needed. If he wont then its a #48 pick on a weak draft. No biggie.


  23. Craig’s point about needing a wing to play real minutes is well-taken and one worth repeating. OTOH, the Lakers need to add two wings, so tabbing another candidate to compete for those minutes at 48 might have made sense.


  24. Also: I am 100% opposed to amnestying Pau, if in fact that is on the table. If Howard stays and they want to move Pau cheap, I wouldn’t like it much, but well, OK. But just dumping his contract for nothing would be utterly pointless except in terms of cash flow. They can amnesty Metta so he can go to Brooklyn if they want to save some money.


  25. Responding to a post on tanking from a few days ago:

    The Lakers never tanked after losing Magic but they got really, really bad

    No, they didn’t. They were actually back in the playoffs that very year at 43-39 and 33-49 in 1994 was as bad as it got. Van Exel (mentioned by the poster) was a 2nd-round draft pick at 37 overall. I am pretty sure that Eddie Jones at 10 was the highest drafted guy on those teams. The team Shaq joined had gone 53-29 the year before.

    As to Shaq’s deal, (poster mentioned new CBA) that is true to an extent, but IIRC Orlando offered him as much money, and the point is that the Lakers had a pretty good team in place before he got there, and that was one reason he wanted to come.

    I get the fascination with tanking, but people who want to do it should have their history straight.

    And, of course Houston is on Howard’s radar since they went 44-38 last year and have Harden in place as his wingman.


  26. Snoopy,
    I could be wrong about this, but I think Xavier is in the states doing graduate work and has been for the past year. If that truly is the case, he may not be as plugged in as he was when he was in Europe.


  27. Jeremy Lin, James Harden, and Dwight Howard – they probably would try to trade Asik go to get Howard. I’m not sure just how championship ready that team would be. How about some honest critique about exactly what Houston has beyond those three (possibly 4) players.

    Even Harden is not that championship ready yet and the players have to learn to play with each other. They are not vets like Garnett, Pierce, and Allen were. This would take at least a year to prepare to compete and there would need to be other pieces added.

    I may be muddle-headed, but why is everyone pointing to Houston being championship ready with Howard?


  28. Harden is one of the best offensive players in the NBA, far better than anyone Howard played with in Orlando, and he is 11 years younger than Kobe–plus he is not on crutches. Also, Houston has a good, young rangy SF in Chandler Parsons, who, if one believes the net, texts and talks to Howard all the time.

    Harden is locked up for the next five years; Howard is basically assured of having an elite wing on his team for the duration of his deal. Additionally, Daryl Morey has shown great aptitude for adding cheap talent.

    Howard supposedly felt marginalized on the Lakers among the old lions. In Houston he would be joining a young core of guys that he supposedly likes and going to a fanbase that desperately wants him. Finally, Howard supposedly has a good relationship with Olajuwon and has been tutored by him, whereas the Lakers’ legends, as Robert often reminds us, are no longer involved with the team.


  29. I have a response to Craig stuck in mod, but it is not so much that Houston will immediately win the title with Howard as it is that the whole situation is tailor-made for him, and they would be quite good with him. And Harden is one of the best wing players in the NBA–and he is only 23.


  30. What’s the latest on the Rockets’ and Mavericks’ cap space? Do either of them have enough room now to sign D12 outright?


  31. I don’t think so, but I am not sure.


  32. Warren Wee Lim June 29, 2013 at 1:24 am

    The Rockets only need to clear out Thomas Robinson’s contract in order to have enough to sign Dwight outright. This is their plan and I believe they just want to get a future 1st rounder for him.

    Dallas has a more tricky situation. They need to shed out the contracts of Vince Carter and Shawn Marion in order to have the space to sign Dwight.

    Houston provides the best fit. But they are not championship contenders right away.


  33. Kobe is one of the best wing players in the NBA and currently he is not on crutches. he is already standing on his toes with no pain.

    Kobe is the obvious choice for those who want to win. period.
    the 7th seed this last season proves that.

    everything else is balogna.

    i can see many reasons why Dwight would really seriously entertain going to Houston. they’re a good team. he may go for that. he’s not going anywhere else though, not unless a serously convoluted deal gets done.

    if he wants to win, to really be about winning, he’ll stay in LA.

    Lebron had to live in the gym with Kobe daily, before he really had a clue about winning.

    things have come easily for Dwight up until last season. growing up is hard. really being a winner means not giving up until the Achilles pops on a monster move that makes darn sure that your team goes to the playoffs like you promised. if Dwight really wants to win, he’ll ignore the b.s. and stay with the Lakers. nothing in life is promised and no one knows how next year will play out. there are no 100% sure bets. more money and being with winners makes more sense at the end of the day.

    of course, i’m just making up stories from the data available. any number of stories could be made up and just like the lottery, one will win and everyone who was on that story’s bandwagon will feel smart.

    i’ll just wait and see. naturally, if Dwight rejects the Lakers, i’ll dislike him for being the enemy. only because he’s not a Laker. that’s what a fan is. a truly objective fan is just a curious onlooker. none of us have any idea about what really goes on, even the ones who played ball in high school or college, or the parasites known as sportwriters who hang around and hear stories(thanks, sportswriters! you have often titillated me, or at least eased my boredom).

    i mean, if the data us accurate, us sunday quaterbacks can make basic calls accurately, but what Dwight really thinks about or cares about is nothing but mystery.


  34. As Duke Alumni I would love to see Ryan succeed, however I am not sure he can make it at the NBA level. Here is my evaluation of Ryan:
    Athleticism – Statically, good since he is 6’11”. Dynamically, not so good. He is slow.
    Skill – Overall very goods skills all around. He has a very flat shot and is very streaky. Very good passer and defender. Does not shoot well when moving.
    Mental – Excellent, if he makes at then this will probably be the difference. Incredibly smart player who smarts help him offset some of his athletic challenges.
    Personally, I would have drafted Seth Curry instead of Ryan Kelly if I was looking for someone to stretch a defense, the size of the players not withstanding.


  35. everything else is balogna.

    if he wants to win, to really be about winning, he’ll stay in LA

    Nah. That is just angry Laker fantalk. On crutches or no, Kobe is facing a massive task in rehab at the age of 35 (in August). Harden is 24 (in August) and healthy. The Lakers have a lot of roster problems now, are facing massive roster uncertainty going forward, and again, are not being lead by Dr. Buss and Phil Jackson anymore and are dealing with the new CBA. This does not mean that I am as down on the current leadership structure as some are, because I’m not, but the stuff about the Lakers tradition and how they will always get it done because they are the Lakers, and Howard’s not being a winner is mostly, again, just fantalk. The facts are that based on where they are now, the Lakers need Howard as a building block to move into the team’s next phase. Kupchak knows this; most people know it. The team will be in a lot of trouble if Howard leaves.

    As to what he really wants to do–well, we will know in about 8-10 days.

    I will say that I think if Howard goes to Dallas, rather than Houston, or the Clippers, or staying with the Lakers, that will be more of an indictment of the Lakers FO. Dallas basically has Dirk, who is as old as Kobe, and the Cuban-driven leadership structure. If they sell Howard on that, that will tell us something. Houston and the Clippers have certain roster assets that the Lakers can’t match. As to whether Howard is as into Doc Rivers as Paul apparently is…well, again, we will know in a few days.


  36. The players the lakers were probably looking to add this year was moat likely ray McCallum or peyton siva. Both were taken before 48 I believe. I was really looking forward to LAL drafting either. As luck would have it, teams were high on those guys.


  37. Shane Battier was never the quickest or most athletic player either, but he is a helluva shooter–looked pretty good in Game 7–and a great defensive player. What he lacks for in athleticism, he makes up in basketball smarts. Ryan is not quite as good a defensive player but is an equally good shooter (as Shane was coming out as a 22-year-old). Duke’s defense was MUCH, MUCH better last year before Kelly got hurt. When he went out, they never really were as good a defensive team. When he came back, he clearly wasn’t 100% (which is why he had more surgery off-season). He is also an extremely smart basketball player, with great recognition on both ends of the floor. Assuming Ryan heals and joins the Lakers healthy, he could turn out to be a very useful role player for them.


  38. I don`t think Kelly has ever been in top NBA shape,never mind the injury problems. If he spends the next 3 months getting into NBA shape,we`ll see in Oct if his athletic and strength negatives are mitigated enough to allow some PT.