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Examining how the Lakers have used Ryan Kelly

Ryan Kelly made his NBA and Lakers debut in China. How it went doesn't matter as much as how Mike D'Antoni used the stretch power forward.


It wasn't long ago that the Los Angeles Lakers selected stretch big man Ryan Kelly out of Duke and the crowd went wild in Brooklyn, showering Adam Silver with cheers of joy and relief. The Lakers did it again, stealing a big man out of seemingly thin air. Only 2/3 of this is fabrication for the sake of setting up a pulse-pounding introduction.

Truth be told we haven't seen much out of R. Kelly. The keys have not been in the ignition while he's dealt with a foot injury, leaving him inactive in the first batch of preseason games. Before he slipped into a Lakers jersey and onto the basketball court it was easy to imagine where he'd fit in Mike D'Antoni's "system." He's tall and he can shoot from beyond the arc, simple enough. Apples make apple sauce, and this was an obvious serving of apple sauce for the Lakers. Pork chops not included.

Over two (count 'em, two) whole games of preseason basketball Kelly is averaging five points per game. He is shooting 36 percent overall from the field  and 33 percent from beyond the arc. No worries, though, there's no need to place stock in the whopping 24 minutes Kelly has played as a Laker. That's the least amount of minutes anyone on the team has played over the exhibition period, excluding Kobe Bean Bryant. For those chomping at the bit to know who has played the most it's none other than Swagimus Prime Nick Young with 143 minutes of blood, sweat and tears on the hardwood floor.

Still, it was clear that D'Antoni was prepared to integrate Kelly despite the lack of prior playing time.

For instance, this inbounds play works to perfection and leads to Kelly's first bucket as a Laker. Jodie Meeks inbounds to Kelly and the Lakers start to execute the set play. Pau Gasol sets an off-ball screen for Nash, who works around the arc for a hand off and second, staggered, screen from Kelly:



Curry is behind Nash because of the two screens and David Lee helps contain Nash. Both defenders have been dragged away from Kelly and Andrew Bogut can't leave Gasol. Nash finds Kelly behind the arc for an open three:



Video of the play:

The Lakers' offense looks to have more to it than high-screens and Horns sets, and it was evident in the following play designed to set up Kelly in the corner. There's a great deal of motion going on, so the player specific motions are color coded in the first screen capture.

Orange: Steve Blake passes to Ryan Kelly and curls into the paint.

Red: Robert Sacre curls around from the weak side to set an off-ball screen at the elbow for Kelly.

Baby blue:  Xavier Henry sets an off-ball screen for Steve Blake as he curls back out to the perimeter:


Kelly passes to Elias Harris at the top of the arc while these actions play out. Blake could potentially have an open three, but Andre Iguodala reacts and switches onto Blake.

Here, you can see the screens being set for both Kelly and Blake


Blake doesn't take the three, instead pushing toward Kelly in the corner. Sacre sets a second off-ball screen for Kelly. Kelly trails into the corner and Lee isn't able to fight through Sacre's screen. He drains the wide-open three from the corner. A great possession and shot for the Lakers' offense:



Video of the play, which looks beautiful in action:

The other aspect of Kelly's game that was discussed in the first Playbook regarding his fit was his ability to put the ball on the floor and drive. He displayed both the good, and the bad, that comes with it.

Here, Sacre hands off to Kelly on the perimeter:


Kelly hits Lee with a pump fake and is able to drive past him. It's important for him to be able to do this as defenders will likely aggressively close out on him from long-range:


But with good comes bad. His ability to finish at the rim will be an area of his game to watch. He gets a good look at the rim but Bogut challenges the shot and forces a miss. Finishing around the many rim protectors in the league will be a challenge:


Video of the play:

Kelly's skill-set is more suited to pump fake from three-point range to step into an open shot from mid-range, something else he showed in China.

Here, Kelly "sets" a screen for Jordan Farmar at the top of the arc. Farmar doesn't take it, instead driving toward Jordan Hill, who also sets a screen:


Curry is behind the play again and forces the big helping over the top to chase Farmar as he drives toward the rim:


Festus Ezeli begins sinking into the paint, distracted by Farmar's dribble penetration. Kelly is following Farmar's movement and slides over a few steps:


Ezelie closes out hard as Kelly pump fakes. He dribbles once and drains the pull up jumper instead of trying to drive to the rim:


Going back, it's worth noting that the subtle shift on the perimeter was another key in the play. Kelly moved into an open passing lane for Farmar, allowing him to pass behind Ezeli instead of in front or over him:


Video of the play:

Here's another interesting way the Lakers utilized Kelly as a three-point shooter. The play opens with Kelly in the weak side corner. Robert Sacre and Darius Johnson-Odom run a high-screen, but the play isn't designed for either player. It is, however, made to create an open look for Kelly. Lee, Kelly's defender, is watching the pick-and-roll sequence:


Lee rotates into the paint to cut off Johnson-Odom. Kelly slides into the open passing lane while Lee makes the wrong read, falling for the decoy dribble penetration. Kelly gathers the pass and misses the shot despite having a good look at the basket. The result of a missed shot isn't ideal, but the shot quality itself was very great:



Video of the play:

Another team that uses pick-and-roll dives to create open threes for their stretch big man? The New Orleans Pelicans:

It's an incredibly small sample size, but it's clear that D'Antoni and the Lakers have designed sets to open the floor and utilize Ryan Kelly. The roster isn't set yet but after watching how he can fit into as a stretch big man for the team it seems unlikely he'll be a roster casualty. The percentages aren't particularly promising, but he's a rookie recovering from an injury. What is promising is how well he fits, how D'Antoni has shown a few nuanced ways to fit him already, and how subtle things -- like the movement along the perimeter into passing lanes -- make him a legitimate spot-up threat.

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