With the 48th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Lakers select, Ryan Kelly from Duke University.
Coach Mike D’Antoni favors a high pace game. In order to encourage a faster pace, speed and skill set must be on the floor at all times to create high percentage shots and points in transition. While other coaches create lineups based on size and athletic matchups, it’s no surprise when D’Antoni placed Amare Stoudemire at Center or Boris Diaw at Power Forward. That allowed Phoenix to push out in transition with their frontcourt outrunning lumbering power forwards and centers on defense. Diaw was drafted originally as a point guard, and later went down the line; small forward, power forward, and even back up center. This allowed a point guard skill set and speed at the center position despite being clearly outsized at the position.
In a previous article of mine I mentioned how Wesley Johnson fit in as a power forward for Lakers, noting the similarities that he had with Shawn Marion in terms of athletic ability, size, and skill set. Phoenix, in the past, had given big men with perimeter abilities considerable playing time, especially Zarko Cabarkapa and Channing Frye. Both are 6’10″ players known for their perimeter shooting abilities above all else. Neither was a considerably strong rebounder, post defender, or prime time shot-blocker. Shooting near 40% from the perimeter is worth defending, and both of them were put in the game to create better spacing.
Cabarkapa didn’t have the greatest NBA career, but Frye flourished under D’Antoni’s system. Averaging 30 minutes per game over two seasons, Channing Frye shot 44% and 39% behind the arc respectively, on a career high 6 attempts behind the arc per game. Frye was a critical cog into giving Steve Nash that extra 3rd or 4th option on offense just to hit shots and draw centers away from the paint. Why is that important? It weakens the interior defense of opposing team and limits their rebounding abilities by drawing size away from the paint.
Enter Ryan Kelly. During his last 2 seasons at Duke, he shot 40.8% and 42.2% behind the NCAA 3-point line respectively. What is unnoticed is that he has a standing reach of a center at 9’2″. That is the same standing reach as Elton Brand, Derrick Favors, and Tyson Chandler. Admittedly, Kelly is more of a perimeter oriented player, but he is able to compete on the backboards with a near 7′ wingspan. Added strength and more focused play in the paint would allow him to be more competitive on the backboards against the NBA elite, but as they say, you can’t teach size.
Kelly’s skill set is similar to what Frye provided for Phoenix with his jumpshooting ability and opportunistic ability to drive to the basket from the high post. It doesn’t take too much skill to make a pick-and-roll or a pick-and-pop play effective, but Ryan Kelly has that ability in spades. Like other rookie players, he’ll need to focus on gaining strength and improving his defense, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Kelly play alongside Wesley Johnson in the frontcourt off the bench.