Below is the ninth in a series previewing the story lines surrounding each player on the Lakers’ roster for the 2014-15 season. This post focuses on Lakers forward Ryan Kelly.
1. Where does Kelly fit in the Lakers’ frontcourt? It almost seems inevitable that one of the Lakers’ forwards will wind up losing in a game of musical chairs. Barring any major injuries, the Lakers will not be able to find a consistent and productive role for all of their power forwards, including Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis, Julius Randle and Kelly (playing each player 12 minutes a game would seem pretty counter productive). This left Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak acknowledging that coach Byron Scott may resort toward playing small for a number of reasons.
The Lakers do not have any player listed above seven feet, leaving Jordan Hill and Robert Sacre as the lone true centers. The Lakers’ glut of forwards could leave opportunity for someone, such as Kelly, to play at small forward. That might become a reality for Kelly given his strong outside shooting and floor spacing. But that creates a whole other list of challenges. He would then compete for minutes against Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry, all of whom may also see some time at shooting guard. Regardless of how this plays out, it seems clear that Kelly enters the 2014-15 season with a number of unpredictable variables that could determine his role. Given Kelly’s professional and hard-working personality, it appears he will understand such issues. But it creates an additional challenge that Kelly must master.
2. Can Kelly thrive outside of Mike D’Antoni’s system? Kelly became a perfect match for D’Antoni’s coaching philosophy that puts a high emphasis on having so-called “stretch fours” that can hit outside shots, space the floor and play multiple positions. So with D’Antoni resigning in late April, how will Kelly fare without him?
Kelly immediately pointed out that he believes he can thrive under any coach, attributing his 8.8 points per game average his rookie season toward a strong basketball IQ, consistent shooting and versatility. Certainly, those are all fundamental qualities that can translate into any NBA system. But it will still be interesting to see if Scott will grant Kelly as many opportunities D’Antoni afforded Kelly, for reasons that included D’Antoni’s system preference, a plethora of injuries and Kelly taking advantage of his time.
3. How much will Kelly’s physicality improve? It appears that Kelly has taken his exit interview pledge to bulk up his size pretty seriously this offseason. According to his Instagram account, Kelly spent a good chunk of his offseason bulking up. So much that he even took part in MMA training. It’s a good sign Kelly worked on this area considering the Lakers and Kelly himself both acknowledged he needed to improve in that area after seeing bulky big men power him at times. Granted, no one will expect Kelly will become an enforcer. Nor should he be. But addressing this issue could go a long way in helping Kelly establish more of a post game and size up against strong power forwards.
4. The Lakers will sorely need Kelly’s shooting. Still, Kelly’s main strength will need to involve his shooting. For all the focus centering the health of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, another huge factor determining the Lakers’ success will entail the team’s outside shooting. The Lakers lost a strong post presence in Pau Gasol, making it uncertain that the Lakers can rely as much as they did inside. The Lakers lost their most prolific outside shooter in Jodie Meeks. So how do the Lakers ease the burden on Bryant? Kelly could become that answer. But as promising as he looked from the perimeter last season, Kelly will need to bank more than 33.8 percent from three-point range.
As much as he wants to still score at a prolific rate, Bryant will gladly facilitate IF he finds his teammates are capable of carrying the workload. But if Kelly, or anyone else for that matter, cannot fill that role, Bryant will try to take care of the job himself, both for better and for worse.
5. What defensive role will Kelly play? Partly because of his physical limitations, Kelly rarely thrived when he defended some of the opposing team’s top scorers. Yet, Kelly could play a valuable part in bolstering the Lakers’ defense, namely because he has the basketball smarts both to keep the unit organized, draw charges and hustle for loose balls.