Yours truly is not one for reading too much into the actions teams take any given day since the politics of sports is something that is hard to conceptualize and adequately comment on, especially from our limited vantage point. That noted, one finds it very difficult to emerge from the draft with any conclusion other than the notion that Mitch Kupchak, Jim Buss, and the front office are entirely behind Mike D'Antoni and his vision for the team. Yes, there was the window dressing that Ryan Kelly was the top rated player on the Lakers' draft board, but he was also in that spot because of how valuable floor spacing and a smart stretch four with good basketball IQ is in Mike D'Antoni's system. They picked Kelly since D'Antoni is confident that he can mold him into a very useful player.
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And this begins and ends with Kelly's ability to stretch the floor, as he put up 1.03 PPP on jumpers from a variety of locations. Unlike say Florida's Erik Murphy, who went to the Bulls with the pick right after the Lakers' and is more of a one trick pony, Kelly can be effective as a spot-up shooter from behind the arc, on the pick-and-pop, and facing up from the elbow and the high post due to his ballhandling ability. Kelly lacks the athleticism to truly turn his face-up game into a dangerous offensive weapon, as he won't be finishing at the rim consistently, but it also indicates that he can be versatile in the spots he is utilized in. Some situations could even see Kelly utilized in the post, an area he was successful at from time to time at Duke due to his decent footwork and awareness, should D'Antoni's offense force a switch and allow him to get onto a smaller defender.
Perhaps the clearest example of how D'Antoni could have a lot of fun utilizing Kelly is in Horns, arguably the most effective set for the Lakers last year. Since Kelly can nail the midrange shot should it become open from the high post, drive if a lane open up due to his ballhandling, or leak out to the wing and circle back top to provide a spot-up option from behind the arc, he serves as a solid overall option as either the big on the strong or weak side. He even could run the 4-5 pick-and-roll with Dwight Howard -- assuming he stays, of course -- since Kelly can act as the ballhandler and unlike Pau, has a more reliable shot to fall back on should the defense collapse on Dwight heading to the rim. All in all, Kelly's game makes him a solid complementary player in the Lakers' system and that ultimately allows him to be more than the sum of his tools and abilities.
Naturally, Kelly has clear limitations that force us to dial back some of the optimism. His aforementioned lack of athleticism hurts him on the defensive end, especially if he will be playing at the four, as checking the pick-and-roll and guarding guys in space is increasingly part of the portfolio for big men nowadays. Although long for his position at 6'11.75'' in shoes along with a wingspan of the same length, it's going to be hard for him to stay with shooters and defend big men who can put it on the floor. To be sure, Kelly has good defensive instincts and Duke's defense was notably better with him present, but it's hard for big men in the league to escape their physical limitations. This also extends to rebounding, an area Kelly was quite poor in despite his size.
Most of these things can be accounted for by the Lakers' scheme and proper help, notably if Dwight is the one manning the middle. Kelly will have to bring his rebounding and instincts on defense up to par, however, if he is going to receive consistent minutes, a development that should be in the works considering his skill set. There really is nothing stopping him from taking the minutes of the likely departed Antawn Jamison and while Kelly isn't going to be getting points on cuts or the occasional offensive rebound, his attributes fit the stretch four mold D'Antoni tried to adapt Jamison into much better than Jamison himself.
In the end, the benefit to picking Kelly in the Lakers' case is that even if all he ever amounts to is a spot-up shooter from behind the arc, that's okay. There is a need for that and indeed, it should constitute the majority of his contributions on offense. We could boil down most of this analysis to, "More spacing, yay!" and it's true because that's a key need the Lakers had to address, regardless of position. Whether Dwight or Pau Gasol is Kelly's frontcourt partner -- hopefully the former most of the time due to Kelly's defensive and rebounding limitations, although Pau could also significantly benefit from the spacing and uncontested control the block Kelly provides him on offense -- Kelly can operate in much the same way and provide decent rotation minutes.
What Kelly has is the potential to become much more than that in D'Antoni's system since he possesses the secondary skills to be a part of other parts of the offense that are created by the Lakers' stars. The team consistently lacked a guy who could step in and fill that role as a consistent release valve for the offense, whether it was for ballhandlers in the pick-and-roll, guys posting up down low, or just something happening off a broken play. Kelly can be effective in this regard since he has the skills and basketball IQ to recognize these situations and maintain the offensive flow that D'Antoni requires. By filling this role, Kelly in turn allows everyone else to be better in their jobs, a mild hyperbole supported by how essential spacing is to the modern NBA game, not just D'Antoni's offense.
That might give the impression that D'Antoni himself is expendable and perhaps that is the case, but considering all the drama last year about running a spread floor system that emphasizes spacing, Kelly is quite the leap in that direction. He checks off essentially every category that D'Antoni asks from his big men and there's practically no scenario in which Kelly couldn't be useful in some fashion to D'Antoni on the offensive end. We talked about D'Antoni having a limited opportunity to get players that were more attuned to his system and principles in the offseason and Kelly is a pretty clear example of this. As badly as he was maligned last year for the Lakers' woes, D'Antoni did find a framework that worked in Horns and Kelly is about as good of a fit for that as you could find in the draft. We often deride looking more at schematic fit than talent when observing the big board, but for a coach in D'Antoni's case, Kelly is a step in the right direction.
As a quick aside, Kelly will unfortunately not be participating in summer league, denying us the opportunity of seeing him and Robert Sacre have some fun together, but there are a number of undrafted free agents that could be interesting pickups. Many were covered in the draft primer, including Brandon Paul, B.J. Young, James Southerland, and Michael Snaer, all of whom would be interesting fits on the squad. So while we will be denied the opportunity to see Kelly in action until training camp, we at least should get some inkling of the future of the team as they incorporate MDA's principles at its most basic level into the Lakers' summer league squad as a prelude to what they will do on the main team with Kelly now onboard.
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