Should Ryan Kelly be selected to the All-Rookie Team?

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

It has been hard to strive for optimism in a year in which losing is likely the optimal course for the franchise going forward, but the play of Ryan Kelly as of late has one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season. Given how terrible this rookie class is, he may have played himself into a recognition no Laker has received in decades: the All-Rookie team.

It was clear fairly early in the process last season that the 2013 draft would have a significant talent deficit, especially near the top of the draft. There were no standout players available to firmly lay claim the number one overall spot and the guy who did have a tenuous hold there in Nerlens Noel suffered an ACL tear that has so far kept him out for the entirety of his rookie season. The return of Marcus Smart, Gary Harris, Mitch McGary and other notables to school also drained the available talent pool, something that has helped to contribute to a very deep 2014 draft in which the Lakers will be in prime position in this summer. Unfortunately for those drafting high in 2013, however, this has made the 2013 draft one of the weakest in recent memory and is part of the reason we can even approach the topic of this article.

Yes, Ryan Kelly is having a very good season for a player taken 48th overall. Of all of the players picked at that spot in the past ten years, only one of them is still in the league (Marc Gasol), so Kelly's already outperformed his draft position by leaps and bounds. And this isn't a backhanded compliment either: as Blake covered in loving detail last weekend, Kelly has an awful lot of things in his toolbox for a guy without superlative physical tools and despite playing four years at Duke, he is still relatively young enough for there to be some future upside to bank upon. Recall that he missed all of last offseason, including summer league and most of training camp, so he should come into next season with some additional conditioning and development under his belt. As far as the team should be concerned, Kelly would be considered a steal at the 48th spot in just about any draft and Mitch Kupchak, Jim Buss, and co. thoroughly nailed the pick.

That doesn't, however, translate into being an All-Rookie candidate in even an average draft, which at this point in the year, we can safely say that this class does not belong to. Only two rookies have an above average PER in Mason Plumlee and Gorgui Dieng, the former an energy bench big not playing big minutes and the latter riding a recent hot streak upon his insertion into Minnesota's regular rotation. As one might guess, the race for Rookie of the Year is now a rather undignified contest between the grossly inefficient Michael Carter-Williams and still relatively raw and developing Victor Oladipo, both of whom pale miserably in comparison to most of the winners of years past. One arguably has to go back to the 2000 draft, in which Mike Miller emerged as the ROY winner of a truly horrific bunch of players, to find anything comparable.

Although we very well could think differently of the draft as a whole in a few years, the top ten is currently a panoply of disasters: six have a PER in the single-digits, the aforementioned Noel hasn't played at all, and Trey Burke, Cody Zeller, and Oladipo headline a thoroughly underwhelming bunch. The struggles of the first overall pick in Anthony Bennett, who has dealt with a variety of medical maladies, a rather sad lack of confidence, and an underdeveloped game that Cleveland bizarrely has chosen not to nurture in the D-League, really encapsulate the draft as a whole; Kelly, picked 47 picks afterwards, is currently nearly doubling Bennett's PER of 6.84. One could make a fair case that the draft's most exciting player is Giannis Antetokounmpo, a huge project that tantalizes with his incredible physical gifts -- as well as his thoroughly unpronounceable name -- but he still has a few years to go on his development curve.

As a result, being named to the All-Rookie Team this year isn't really anything to write home about, but seeing that this is an honor that no Laker has received since Kobe Bryant and Travis Knight were named to the second team seventeen years ago, it's at least worth looking into. Ten players regardless of position are put onto two teams, with more possibly included in the event of a tie. Given that the head coaches do the voting for who gets included, this inevitably means that several end up delegating it to a random staffer and ultimately not caring all that much about the outcome. As we can't prognosticate laziness and inadequate research, let's look at every rookie so far this year who has managed to clear a double-digit PER and is on track to clear 500 minutes played:

Player MPG PPG RPG APG PER
Mason Plumlee 17.0 6.7 4.0 0.6 17.93
Gorgui Dieng 9.3 3.0 3.8 0.5 15.69
Michael Carter-Williams 34.9 16.7 6.1 6.2 14.60
Kelly Olynyk 19.2 7.6 5.0 1.5 13.99
Victor Oladipo 32.0 14.0 4.3 4.2 13.57
Ryan Kelly 21.0 7.7 3.4 1.4 13.41
Jeff Withey 9.8 2.3 2.3 0.4 13.15
Tim Hardaway Jr. 23.0 10.1 1.5 0.8 12.90
Nate Wolters 22.6 7.2 2.6 3.2 12.80
Nick Calathes 17.0 5.0 2.0 3.1 12.73
Trey Burke 31.6 12.8 3.0 5.4 12.73
Cody Zeller 16.7 5.6 4.3 1.1 12.69
Pero Antic 18.0 7.0 4.0 1.2 11.92
Giannis Antetokounmpo 24.3 7.0 4.4 2.0 11.22
Vitor Faverani 13.2 4.4 3.5 0.4 11.18
Matthew Dellavedova 16.7 4.5 1.7 2.3 10.95
Steven Adams 14.9 3.2 4.2 0.6 10.91

Yeah. Not exactly an inspiring bunch. In any case, let's get the easy candidates out of the way: Plumlee destroys the rest of the field as far as efficiency goes, so even considering his bench role, he easily takes one of the spots on the first team. This is something we have to parse much more closely with the remainder of the group, as guys who have lower efficiency but put in a lot more time on the court should get the nod over those who do not. With the efficiency gaps not as large as between Plumlee and just about everyone else, it behooves us to weigh time on the court a lot more. As such, that puts MCW, Oladipo, and Burke onto the first team as well, seeing that they've had to take their lumps as starters and still produce as their respective teams burn around them.

Examining the context for everyone else is not quite as easy. For instance, if Dieng continues to put up numbers even remotely in the ballpark of the what he's done recently -- which has been to average 12.7/14.0/1.7 on a 63.3 TS% in the past six games, a paltry line to be sure -- he should get the last first team spot in a landslide. Otherwise, Olynyk has a fairly good case to be there, although by the end of the year, it might end up being a push between him and Kelly as far as efficiency goes, the former getting more of his offense closer to the basket and the latter from range. Either way, Dieng, Olynyk, and Kelly should all end up somewhere on the two teams, meaning that we have three spots to fill.

Assuming Withey doesn't get a lot of playing time to close the year, we can probably exclude him from consideration, leaving us with more or less everyone with a PER of 12 and possibly Antetokounmpo. And really, the only reason that everyone's favorite Greek player receives a lot of notice here is because people are entranced by his potential rather than his production. He definitely could be the guy that drags this class out of the muck in a few years, but at the moment, this isn't the case. As for the rest, Hardaway is likely deserving of a spot even if his passing and defense leave an awful lot to be desired on a Knicks team that is lacking in both areas.

Finally, choosing the guy to be left off between Wolters, Calathes, and Zeller isn't exactly a discussion that is going to evoke a lot of emotion on any side given that they aren't making a whole lot of noise on their respective teams. Along with Kelly, Wolters probably deserves props for being one of the very few second round picks in this draft achieving any sort of respectable production, and while the fact he's on the league's worst team has something to do with it, his minutes edge over Calathes and Zeller should be taken into account. On the flip side, Calathes and Zeller, the former more so because he had to fill in for an injured Mike Conley and did so rather ably, are rotation players for teams with playoff aspirations. In the end, it's hard to critique a guy for a context he can't control, but that both Wolters and Calathes are filling in bigger roles for their teams probably tips the scales in their direction.

This gives us the following:


Position Player Team
First PG Michael Carter-Williams Sixers
First PG Trey Burke Jazz
First SG Victor Oladipo Magic
First C Mason Plumlee Nets
First C Gorgui Dieng Timberwolves
Second PG Nate Wolters Bucks
Second PG Nick Calathes Grizzlies
Second SG Tim Hardaway Jr. Knicks
Second PF Ryan Kelly Lakers
Second C Kelly Olynyk Celtics

Again, this shouldn't be something that people are shedding too many tears over because of how awful the class is as a whole. That someone like Dieng, as impressive as his recent play is, can muscle in his way to the first team is just a sign of how dismal the competition for this honor is. Nevertheless, Kelly ultimately deserves his props for fighting hard to be effective in a year in which the expectations for him were nonexistent and receiving a spot on the All-Rookie Team would be a nice capstone for all of that work. No doubt next year the Lakers will again be looking for an All-Rookie performer and that time around, the competition certainly will be a much more intriguing race to parse.

Follow this author on Twitter @brosales12.

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