The '13-14 Los Angeles Lakers season, at the time, was statistically the worst season in Lakers' history. The team lost 55 games and missed the playoffs for the first time since '04-05. Kobe Bryant returned from his Achilles injury, then suffered another season-ending setback after just six games. Steve Nash appeared in just 15 games. Pau Gasol was constantly involved in trade rumors, then got vertigo at the end of the season. It was a disastrous year.
There were a few bright spots, though. Nick Young had his best season as a pro, averaging nearly 18 points per game with a career-high 56.4 true-shooting percentage. He also gave us the "Swaggy Pau" moment and the infamous "celebrate like you made the three, but the shot actually rimmed out" meme. Kendall Marshall, who was signed after every other point guard option was injured, started 45 games and was a threat to put up a double-double in each game.
But the brightest of all the spots was Ryan Kelly's emergence. The Lakers selected Ryan Kelly with the 48th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. At 6'11", and with the ability to hit shots from the perimeter -- Kelly made 41.1 percent of his three-point attempts in his final two seasons at Duke -- it was clear that Kelly's role in the NBA was going to be as a stretch four.
And what better coach to be a stretch four under than Mike D'Antoni?
Kelly did not play much early in the season, but as the Lakers fell further and further in the standings, the rookie was given a chance to prove himself. And he did. Ryan finished the year averaging eight points, 3.7 rebounds, and 0.8 blocks per game -- his numbers per 36 minutes were 13.6, 6, and 1.2, respectively. He had some standout performances including a 20-point game against the Boston Celtics, a 26-and-6 game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and a 24-and-11 game against the Denver Nuggets.
He shot 42.4 percent from the field, and though his percentage from behind the arc was below average (33.8 percent), shooting struggles are pretty common for rookies as they adjust to the NBA three-point line. Kelly showed that not only could he stretch the floor, he could also create his own shot off the dribble. His three-point marksmanship made his go-to move a pump fake to either a one or two dribble pull-up, or a floater in the lane. He also got to the line more than expected for a stretch four as his true-shooting percentage was 54.8.
Defensively, he was serviceable. He wasn't the best on-ball defender, as his lateral quickness leaves a lot to be desired, but he was a good "team defender". He often made the proper rotations and showed a solid ability as a help defender, averaging 1.2 blocks per 36 minutes and leading the Lakers in charges drawn with 10.
It appeared that the Lakers had acquired a quality role player with the 48th-overall pick, which would have been great value seeing as how many second-round picks never get NBA minutes. His promising rookie season led the Lakers to re-sign the Duke alum to a two-year, $3.3 million contract. Kelly took a major step back in his sophomore season, however. Other than maybe Nick Young, I'm not sure there was a Laker who was more affected by the Lakers' head coaching switch.
Rather than perfecting his role as a stretch four, Ryan Kelly was given the task of trying to learn the small forward position. It didn't take long to see that he was ineffective at the position, yet Byron Scott continued to trot the failed experiment onto the floor.
Kelly's game simply doesn't fit that position. He already had difficulty guarding quicker power forwards, making it an impossible task to guard small forwards who even quicker. The things he does do well as a defender near the rim (take charges, block shots) were nullified since he was guarding on the perimeter much more often.
Offensively, his game suffered even more. His three-point shooting stroke never really got to where it was hoped it'd be -- his percentage actually dipped from his rookie year -- and his off-the-dribble game was non-existent. In his rookie year, when he got a player to bite for a fake or close out too hard, he was able to create enough space to generate an open look for himself. When used as a small forward, Kelly's defender usually had the quickness to recover and force a contested shot even if beaten after a shot fake or a hard closeout since small forwards were chasing him. It seemed like he rarely had open looks.
As a result, Kelly's shooting-percentage dropped from 42.1 percent to an absurd 33.7 percent in his sophomore season. For a more detailed look, let's compare his shot charts. Here's his rookie season:
And here's last season:
Ryan regressed in almost every area on the floor. When you factor in that he's an average defender at best, and a poor rebounder -- he only averaged 4.3 rebounds per 36 minutes and had a total rebounding percentage of 6.5 percent -- it made him unplayable. I think the position change had a big hand in his regression from his rookie year to his second year, but I believe he can still be a worthwhile player if used correctly. On the flip side, there's the possibility that maybe he just overachieved under D'Antoni. We've seen it many times before. Remember Earl Clark?
Kelly's name was floated around in trade rumors this summer, and with the return of Julius Randle, the signing of Brandon Bass, and the selection of Larry Nance, Jr., it just seems as though his time with the Lakers is nearing its end. At the very least, it appears playing time will be hard to come by if he does stick around, though we know injuries aren't uncommon.
However, Kelly does represent the only three-point shooter in the power forward group, and perhaps if he catches fire during the preseason, he can find a role as a shooter and floor-spacer for the Lakers in the right matchups or situations.