After a very strong senior season, particularly on the offensive end, Duke senior Ryan Kelly has worked his way into the NBA Draft mix as a skilled big man that can make it onto the right roster. Kelly is a true stretch 4 whose best offensive trait is his ability to shoot the ball. Kelly displayed legitimate NBA range on his jump shot this year, shooting 42.2% from behind the arc on a high volume of three-point attempts. At 6 foot 10 and with good length, Kelly can get a shot off against almost any defender, even with his limited elevation on his jumper. He is at his best in catch and shoot situations, but has improved off of the drive to the point where he can hurt teams in a variety of means. Kelly beats his man off the dribble with a good head or ball fake, and is a strong ball handler for a player of his size. He is a good passer with a high basketball IQ and an understanding of when and where to keep the ball moving on the wing. Kelly stretches the defense with his shooting ability, and then breaks down opponents with his ability to shoot or pass off the drive. He is just okay as a shooter off the dribble, but has a strong midrange game overall, with a good turnaround and fadeaway jumper. Kelly turns the ball over at a low rate for a perimeter-oriented player, and is a very sound decision maker overall. He fits best in a half-court offense that stresses ball movement and deep range shooting set up by dribble penetration, possessing a set of offensive skills that translate well in certain circumstances in the NBA.
The knock on Kelly’s offensive game is that he lacks the physicality or strength to play in the post, and yet is a below-average athlete for a perimeter-oriented NBA player. Kelly is not a good finisher at the rim, lacking much explosion or ability to score after absorbing contact from a defender. He has a few offensive moves from the block, particularly where he drives across the lane for a short fadeaway jump shot, but has to add strength to become even an average post scorer. Kelly uses hesitation and tempo to beat his man off the dribble, but lacks an explosive first step or an ability to break his man down with the dribble. He played in an advanced offense in college where his man was often running at him when he caught the ball, and did not show much ability to create for himself or others in isolation situations. His lack of athleticism may limit the circumstances where he can be an effective offensive player at the next level. Kelly does not like to get out and run the floor, and is not much of a factor on the offensive glass, two areas where many players can add value but Kelly is somewhat limited.
Many of the advanced measures suggest that in spite of a lack of elite athleticism, strength, or quickness, Ryan Kelly is still one of the better defensive players in the country. Although praise for Kelly is often limited to his shooting and decision making on offense, he actually finished last season ranked in the top 10 in the ACC in defensive rating. Kelly is not a great post or perimeter, but he is a decent one at both positions. He plays with a great motor and energy, and is a disruptive player on the wing for his size. Kelly has elite defensive instincts, knowing when he can press to force a turnover or play off his man and trust the help of a teammate. In the post, Kelly has improved greatly with his shot blocking. He will never be a rim protector, but has enough length and timing to cause problems for players that are stronger and more athletic than he is. Overall, Kelly is an efficient defensive player who gets the most out of his athleticism, and could be a decent piece to a strong team defensive scheme at the next level.
While Kelly was a very underrated defensive player in college, scouts project that his skill set on this end of the floor will not translate as well to the NBA as it did at the NCAA level. Kelly was a versatile defender at Duke who competed against both wings and bigs, but his overall lack of strength or speed raises the question of who he guards at the next level. Kelly spent most of his time in college guarding the perimeter, but he does not have good foot speed and struggles against the drive when his man takes it into his chest. His lack of physicality hurts him when defending the post, as Kelly shows little resistance against back-to-the-basket scorers. Kelly is also a poor rebounder for his size, and gets beat on the offensive glass when he gets caught guarding in the post. He is not a good leaper and not strong enough to box out forwards, an area where he has to improve in order to guard forwards at the next level. Kelly has the smarts to succeed in the right defensive scheme, but his overall value on this end is very limited because of his poor quickness and strength in guarding against stronger and more athletic forwards.
Ryan Kelly fits the mold of a four-year player at one of the most successful and well-coached programs in the nation. A very skilled big man who strives in the catch and shoot, Kelly has legitimate NBA shooting range and can stretch defenses in a way that many teams covet from the power forward spot. Kelly is an elite decision maker who can beat his man off the dribble and create for others as a strong passer and ball handler. He moves the ball extremely well on the perimeter, possessing a strong understanding of the offense and knowing where to get the ball for a good look at the basket. Kelly is not a great finisher at the rim and does not score much in the post, possessing more of a finesse than a physical game on both ends. He lacks much strength or speed, raising questions about who he can guard at the next level. His overall athleticism and lack of rebounding limit his overall upside, a factor that turns many scouts away from Kelly. But for his physical shortcomings, Kelly’s ability to stretch the defense and shoot the ball translate very well to the NBA level, and fit well in teams that play a half-court offense focused on perimeter ball movement. The Duke star is not a fit for every team, but his high skill level for a player his size should allow him to find a niche on a team that will get a steal in Ryan Kelly.