Losing senior forward Ryan Kelly to a right foot injury sounds like a complete disaster for Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. In the famous (or perhaps infamous) words of Lee Corso, "Not so fast my friend!"
Simply using basic metrics, Kelly is just Duke's fourth-leading scorer at 13.4 points per game. He's not a very good rebounder, as he has recorded 5.4 boards per game, despite standing 6'11". And he played the fewest minutes of any of the team's starters at 28.3 per game, which is likely because the foot injury is actually of the nagging variety.
The lone area of great need that he leads Duke in is blocks. He averages 1.7 per game, while fellow starting big man Mason Plumlee creeps ever so near at 1.6 per game.
Of course losing a player who provides those kinds of numbers is going to hurt a team in the interim time that he is gone. But there is a blessing in disguise to turn a phrase.
Coach K is historically a coach who prefers to play as few players as possible. This season his team is as deep as it’s been in recent memory, regularly going nine deep.
Josh Hairston, Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy—the triumvirate expected to “replace” Kelly—average 12.1, 9.0 and 5.4 minutes per game, respectively. Hairston is the only one of the three who played in each of Duke’s 16 games this season.
Who should gain the majority of Ryan Kelly's minutes and opportunities?
Each of the three is raw in his own right. None of them average more than 3.5 points per game or 2.2 rebounds per game. However, per 40 minutes, Jefferson is a player who projects to be a fine basketball player.
Kelly’s usage rate is second-lowest among starters at 20.5. Yet he is rated highest in ORat at 126.8 according to Statsheet.com. Jefferson is the highest-rated Duke player of the non-starters at 108.5.
If it’s offense the Blue Devils want to find in the wake of Kelly, they should look no further than the freshman Jefferson.
If it’s controlling the glass—especially at the defensive end—fellow freshman Alex Murphy presents the best option, based on his 17.7 defensive rebound percentage.
If it’s keeping offenses away from the paint, Mason’s brother, Marshall, may be called upon. His 12 percent block rate would surely fall with more regular minutes, but it would likely land somewhere around Kelly’s 5.5 and Mason’s 4.4.
In other words, there are options for Coach K—all of which should be used.
The experience gained for the youngsters will come in handy in the postseason, should something happen to Kelly again or major foul trouble plagues the Blue Devils.
Perhaps of greater benefit is the positive effect it will have in 2014 and beyond when Hairston, Jefferson, Murphy and Plumlee are featured players for this Duke team. Gaining experience in ACC conference play can only accelerate their development at the college level and prepare them for next season.
Coach K and the Duke program are all about winning now, and rightfully so. However, Kelly’s injury may actually help them win more now and in the future.