The goals stay plastered on his mirror, the pieces of paper inscribing everything that Ryan Kelly hopes to accomplish.
There are plenty, considering Kelly ended his 2014-15 season with the Lakers weathering frustration for many reasons. The Lakers (21-61) cemented their worst record in the franchise’s 67-year-old history. Kelly averaged 6.4 points on only 33.7 percent shooting, admittedly struggling at the small forward spot after spending his entire collegiate career at Duke and his rookie season with the Lakers assuming the so-called stretch four spot.
So Kelly plans to spend plenty of his offseason with a to-do list that will stay fixated on his mirror. He will tweak the arc of his to ensure a quicker release. He will work on ball handling drills. He will try to add more strength to his 6’11,” 230-pound frame. But the Lakers’ second-year forward has written a new goal, aware he will try to achieve all these tasks while somehow reducing his workload. All because he believes that endless training contributed to overlapping hamstring injuries that sidelined him for 30 games in the 2014-15 season.
“I was probably overworking myself leading up to training camp,” Kelly said after last week’s exit meetings. “I was working out in three different locations every day and driving between them up to an hour just because I wanted to be as ready as I could be. That was my first offseason really as a NBA player. I think, especially leading up to camp, I did a little too much. I obviously wasn’t training in the best position possible where I must have been off in some way. Once training camp rolled around, it put me over the edge if you will.”
After Kelly opened training camp straining his left hamstring, he strained his right hamstring two weeks later performing a three-man weave drill at a morning shootaround. He returned for one game on Nov. 4 against Phoenix before sitting out the next three games after feeling the hamstrings tighten up. Two games later, Kelly strained another part of his right hamstring and sat out for the next 22 games.
“It made it tougher throughout the season to work on my body as much and continue to get stronger as I had during the summer,” said Kelly, who has one year left on his contract worth a guaranteed $1.75 million. “The hammy was a big setback to start the year off in the first place. That made everything a little bit tougher.”
Once Kelly returned, he experienced more adversity.
The Lakers’ losses kept piling up, so coach Byron Scott soon put more value in developing the team’s young talent. The Lakers’ injuries kept piling up, long-term and season-ending absences to Kobe Bryant (right shoulder), Nick Young (left knee) and Xavier Henry (left Achilles tendon) leaving the team with only Wesley Johnson as the only player capable of playing at small forward.
That left Kelly played 38 games at small forward where he averaged 4.0 points on a 30.1 percent clip, a drop from when he averaged eight points on 42.3 percent shooting his rookie season.
“They knew all along that wasn’t exactly what was best for me individually,” Kelly said. “But it’s what we needed. I have no problem with that.”
In fact, Kelly somewhat embraced his new responsibility. Even if the new role inhibited the floor spacing and outside shooting he excelled in as a stretch forward, Kelly learned the hard way how he can expand his game. He soon guarded players both quicker and smaller than him. Kelly soon learned how to release his shot quicker in tight spaces.
“I’m probably not a starting 3 in the NBA,” Kelly said. “But the more positions you can play, even for spot minutes, the more valuable you are.”
Yet, Kelly proved more valuable once he returned to his natural position.
He posted a season-high 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting and seven assists in the Lakers’ 106-98 win over Minnesota on April 12. Through 12 games as a power forward, Kelly averaged 10.85 points on a 40 percent clip. He plans to train this summer solely at the stretch-four position.
“When I got my opportunity to play the 4, I did some pretty good things both offensively and defensively,” Kelly said. “I can certainly grow from that.”
But to do that, Kelly will have to find a way to find the perfect balance in reaching the goals he has written on paper that he has attached to his mirror. As valuable as those endless shooting, ball-handling and weight-training sessions will become, Kelly believes he will also have to scale back. His health could depend on it.