The Emergence of Ryan Kelly


In the 2013 NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Lakers had a single second round pick as their lone selection in the draft. The pick was used to draft Ryan Kelly from Duke. Most thought the pick was a good idea – Kelly was a stretch power forward who would fit perfectly into Mike D’Antoni’s system. The only issue seemed to be that Kelly was drafted with a foot injury that may have scared other teams off. He was unable to perform in the summer league and preseason due to the injury and many who covered the team thought there was a chance Kelly would be cut. Luckily the team stuck by it’s draft pick and kept him, despite the lack of actual playing time.

Dec 29, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers power forward Ryan Kelly (4) drives against Philadelphia 76ers small forward Evan Turner (12) during the fourth quarter at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Kelly has slowly been worked into the Lakers rotation, failing to appear in a game until November 5th, against the Mavericks, in which he logged an entire 3 minutes of play. Kelly finished the month of November with 7 minutes played. In December he logged more significant minutes, although he still accounted for 7 DNP – Coach’s decisions. With the new year came new opportunities for the rookie. He has appeared in every single game since January 1st and is averaging 22 minutes per game.

Under normal circumstances it’s possible that Kelly wouldn’t have earned any playing time, but he has made the most of his chance. The Lakers have been absolutely decimated by injuries and a lack of viable players to field. Like any late draft pick or undrafted player, Kelly has seized the opportunity. The past two games have seen Kelly post the two highest scoring games of his young career, with 17 and 20 point efforts. His effort on defense has been admirable, but it is clear that he needs time to develop and learn how to play in the NBA.

Kelly has shown the ability to be more than just a stretch power forward in his limited playing time. He has shown the ability to take defenders off the dribble, and in the game versus Boston, he got at least four defenders to fly by using a nice pump fake. His defense was a trait that was highly admired in college – if you google “Ryan Kelly defense” you get articles that get posted such as, “Duke misses Ryan Kelly’s defense most” or “Ryan Kelly is is Duke’s defensive quarterback.” Clearly the kid can play defense, but like many other Duke players, this fact seemed to get looked over.

Jan 3, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Ryan Kelly (4) shoots the ball against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

During a season where the Lakers are playing a ton of young players and seeing who is a part of the future, developing your draft picks is hugely important. The Lakers have made an effort to try and develop Robert Sacre as well, but it seems like D’Antoni is only able to work on one 2nd round draft pick at a time. The Lakers have only had one first round draft pick since the 2009 season, and haven’t had a player stick through the draft in an even longer time. One of the main reasons the Lakers face this difficult season is the lack of ability to get any sort of functional play out of their draft picks. Although 2nd round picks aren’t usually expected to contribute, when that’s all you have to work with you need to capitalize. Although Kelly is still very young, he has shown significant progress and potential. Now he will get a chance to prove he belongs not only on the Lakers, but in the NBA.