This is the real wild card for the Blue Devils. If Ryan Kelly were to return from injury, how would that impact Duke?
When the Kelly was on the court, Duke was probably the best team in the country. The starting five was not only strong, but posed matchup problems for opponents that had to deal with Kelly’s size and outside shooting range.
In his absence, Duke has looked disjointed on defense and been forced to toy with the lineup to figure out an offensive attack that works. If Kelly were to be back in time for the NCAA tournament, then it’s probable that Duke’s case as a title contender would be significantly strengthened.
The counter argument is that his return might pose problems with regard to team chemistry. Even the most optimistic estimates have Kelly coming back just before the tournament, which doesn’t leave any time for the Blue Devils to reintegrate him into the rotation. Duke fans will recall the upheaval caused by Kyrie Irving’s return from injury just in time for the tournament and how that ended poorly.
But Kelly isn’t a point guard like Irving, so his inclusion in the team probably wouldn't be as disruptive. Better still, even if Kelly returns, his prolonged absence has offered up more minutes to the likes of Josh Hairston, Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy. Those players have developed nicely as role players, thanks to an increased role in the team.
If Ryan Kelly were to return to Duke, he’d find that the players around him have matured and grown significantly. So long as he were able to smoothly reinsert himself into the rotation, Kelly would be coming back to a team even better than the one he last played with.
Between the emotional lift of Kelly returning and the effects of his absence in terms of player development, Duke’s prospects for a deep run in March are bright.