The Los Angeles Lakers took a chance with the 48th pick in the 2013 NBA draft. The team chose Ryan Kelly, the 6’11” Duke forward who averaged 12.9 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in his senior season.
Kelly seems to fit the mold of the Lakers’ roster—he’s big and can light it up from beyond the arc—but his transition from college to the NBA won’t exactly be an easy one.
Kelly has a lot to work on if he plans on actually contributing to Los Angeles next season.
For starters, Kelly has to get healthy. He missed 13 games for the Blue Devils last season due to complications from foot surgery, and he went under the knife yet again in the offseason. For that reason, Kelly wasn’t able to work out with teams leading up to the draft.
The last thing the Lakers need is another injury-plagued player.
Dwight Howard and Steve Nash missed a ton of time last season, and Kobe Bryant is recovering from a torn Achilles. Kelly will not play on the team’s summer league squad, which gives him about three months before training camp to regain full health.
Improve Defensive Skills
Once healthy, the next thing Kelly must do is improve his defensive ability. His intensity was always there in college, but at times he looked like Steve Novak in one-on-one situations. A lot of guys in the NBA can knock down shots, but if he wants serious minutes for the Lakers, Kelly must improve his footwork and agility on the defensive end.
Despite his reputation, Kelly believes that he improved as a defender over the course of his collegiate career, as he told Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles:
Through my career at Duke, [defense] was something that I really did improve on. I know that I always work hard on the defensive end, and as I continue to grow as a player and work on my lateral mobility, I think I got a lot better. By my senior year, I often was being put on the best big guy and have to either battle in the paint or guard a quicker guy. I think I can do those things. I do know that I've worked really hard to be a great help-side defender. I take charges and block shots and do the little things. That's what I pride myself on as a player that does the little things and works hard. I think those things will transition well.
Kelly was undoubtedly one of the biggest leaders on Duke last season. When he did return to the court, he shocked everyone with an amazing performance against Miami following an embarrassing loss to Virginia, as Sports Illustrated reported:
Senior forward Ryan Kelly came back on Saturday for the Blue Devils' thrilling win over the Hurricanes. Not only came back, but started, and not only started, but played 32 minutes. Not only contributed, but put up a career-high 36 points and a team-high seven rebounds, and was the reason Duke avenged the humiliating, 27-point loss it suffered to the Hurricanes on Jan. 23, with Kelly sidelined.
Duke’s record with Kelly in the lineup was 23-2. Without him, it was 9-4.
Kelly can’t be afraid or timid in an NBA locker room. He is a proven winner and needs to be able to hold his own in a locker room with some huge egos in it.
Don't Stop Firing
Kelly wasn’t drafted because of anything but his shooting. His jumper has a high release, which he can get off against smaller forwards, and he converted 45 percent of the time last season. Realistically, he has the potential to become someone like Matt Bonner of the San Antonio Spurs—stretching the defense and knocking down shots if left open.
Kelly wasn’t picked up by the Lakers to be a superstar, but he does have the potential to evolve into a quality NBA player. If he can get (and stay) healthy, improve his defensive abilities, remain a leader and continue firing jumpers, he’ll make his mark in the league.