Rookie forward Ryan Kelly earns role in Lakers’ rotation
Rookie forward Ryan Kelly has found a way into the Lakers’ rotation, playing a career-high 17 minutes on Wednesday in the Lakers’ 101-95 loss to the Miami Heat.
“He knows how to play, defensively and offensively,” said Coach Mike D’Antoni after practice on Thursday. “Defensively he’s the first one to get to the right spot. I think that going forward, he can keep earning more time. I’m pretty excited about him.”
The Lakers drafted Kelly with the 48th overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft.
Through seven appearances, the 6-foot-11 Duke forward is averaging 2.1 points a game on 45.5% shooting from the field as well as 42.9% from three-point range. He’s played 49 minutes this entire season.
D’Antoni didn’t let Kelly know ahead of time that he’d be playing a bigger role.
“It just happened, that’s kind of what’s been my motto the whole year, is to be ready for any opportunity that comes your way and take advantage of it,” said Kelly. “I’ve put myself in a position where [D’Antoni] can trust me, to call my name. Now I have to go out there and get him to trust me, to keep me out there.”
Kelly even had the opportunity to guard LeBron James briefly on the team’s Christmas Day matchup with the Miami Heat.
“That’s a challenge. It was a pretty easy challenge for him,” said Kelly. “That’s a learning experience and something to grow on.”
Kelly spent nearly the entire off-season rehabbing from April foot surgery. To help him get more experience, the Lakers sent him multiple times to the NBA Developmental League.
In five appearances with the D-Fenders, Kelly averaged 25.2 points and 7.6 rebounds.
General Manager “Mitch [Kupchak] and everybody has been great during that whole time period of getting me up and down” to the D-Fenders, said Kelly. “I was getting a lot of practice time with both teams.”
“Obviously you play a lot of minutes in games [with the D-Fenders], I haven’t done that since college,” he continued. “I hadn’t played in games or really long scrimmages since the end of my senior season. That was tremendous helpful.”
To make room in the rotation for Kelly, centers Chris Kaman and Robert Sacre may see their minutes shortened -- although given Pau Gasol is out for the Lakers’ visit to the Utah Jazz on Friday night with an upper respiratory tract infection, the team will have extra minutes to fill.
“That’s the fallout. There’s a ripple when guys come in,” said D’Antoni on giving some of Kaman and Sacre’s minutes to Kelly. “It’s not the production of certain guys, it’s how you want the team to play. Some guys get the short end of the stick. I hate it but this team has to play the way that they function best.”
Kelly’s role with the Lakers is to spread the floor, primarily as a spot-up shooter. He’s hoping to prove he’s not a defensive liability.
“That’s something I was pretty good at, at Duke, being a help-side defender and making sure I was in the right place at the right time,” said Kelly.
Against the Heat, Kelly scored four points. The Lakers outscored Miami by three points in the 17 minutes Kelly was on the floor.
On one play, he beat the entire Miami team down the court in transition, resulting in a pair of free throws.
“If you beat everybody out on the first three steps, it doesn’t matter how fast you are, you can get down the floor before everybody else,” said Kelly, who isn’t exactly the fastest player in the league.
While putting in the work behind the scenes, Kelly is happy to have earned a chance to prove himself on the court in games.
The Lakers have lost three straight to fall to 13-16 on the season, although their next four games are against teams with losing records (Utah twice, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks).
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