Is Ryan Kelly a Part of the Los Angeles Lakers Future?


When Lakers fans look into the future and think about who is going to be a part of this rebuilding franchise, most will immediately think of promising rookie guard Jordan Clarkson, and rookie forward Julius Randle who has played just a single full NBA game, but has been on a nice recovery following two surgeries. One might also think of power forward Tarik Black, who has came in later this season providing energy and steady production. But what about 23 year-old Ryan Kelly? Does he belong in the Lakers long-term plans?

Kelly, picked 48th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft, originally saw a clear role for himself on the Lakers. He had a “run and gun” style coach in Mike D’Antoni to play for, which favored his strengths at Duke where he spaced the floor and hit threes as a stretch four. He also had the chance to play alongside future hall-of-fame guards in Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant.

As a rookie, Kelly’s playing time gradually grew over the season. Kelly averaged a mere 5 minutes of playing time during his first six games as a Laker, but near the end of the season his minutes significantly jumped, averaging just under 30 minutes a game. This spike in playing time is most likely due to the team’s poor record and willingness of the coaching staff to give the younger players more exposure, but nonetheless, Kelly had the chance to show his strengths and prove he belongs on a NBA roster. He finished his rookie season averaging 8 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.

This season has been more of a struggle for Kelly. Out was D’Antoni, and in was new coach Byron Scott, who said during the preseason that “three pointers don’t win championships.” Yes, really. More importantly, Kelly’s second year as a Laker has been hampered by injuries.

In October, Kelly suffered a moderate left hamstring strain and was declared out indefinitely. A month later, Kelly re-injured his hamstring against Golden State, which later was revealed to be a tear. He was predicted to be out for at least another six weeks. Kelly returned in January, and struggled to find his shot. He scored in double figures only once the entire month, dropping 13 points against Orlando.

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Kelly’s troubles can also be attributed to him playing out of position. Most of this season, Scott has played Kelly as a small forward, even though his natural position is a power forward. Recently, though, as the Lakers have been in “evaluation mode” down the stretch of this season, Scott moved Kelly back to power forward. Positive results immediately were shown, as Kelly’s first two games back as a power forward were arguably his two best games of the year. Kelly averaged 13.5 points per game, shooting 42.8 percent, 6.5 rebounds, and 2 assists. This is a rapid increase of production than what he was averaging as a small forward. During his 38 games as a small forward, Kelly averaged 4.0 points, shooting 30.1 percent, 2.6 rebounds and 1.1 assists.

Next year, the Lakers only have four guaranteed players on the roster. Bryant, Randle, Kelly, and Nick Young will all be back next year, as well as future rookies from the 2015 draft and (hopefully) Clarkson. Next year will definitely be a “make it or break it” season for Kelly. As the NBA is evolving to have more “stretch fours”, Kelly certainly has value and can bring production to a team in the right system. He just may have to win over some people first.

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