Hidden under the incredible 42-point performance by Jodie Meeks, Los Angeles Lakers rookie Ryan Kelly set his own personal record of eight assists in a game.
After a spell on the bench, Kelly returned to the starting lineup supplanting Kent Bazemore, and the former Duke Blue Devil played 37 minutes out of a possible 48 against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Kelly also scored 12 points and collected five rebounds, but the skinny rookie caught the eyes of fans, in particular, with one of those career-high eight assists.
On that assist, Kelly catches the ball at the three-point line and does a pump fake to draw Kevin Durant out to challenge the shot--yes, the "Durantula." Then, Kelly takes advantage of the off-balance defender and drives to the free throw line before pulling up with a step-back that creates separation between him and Durant. That step-back forces Durant to leave his feet in order to challenge Kelly’s shot.
Only, Kelly does not shoot. At this point, he has completely controlled the action against one of the top three players in the NBA. As a reminder, Kelly is a rookie.
Durant does well not to foul the Lakers’ rookie despite the 22-year-old attempting to lean into the air-born Durant. Kelly then notices Meeks has cut on the baseline and is standing under the basket with Derek Fisher on the wrong side of him.
In his limited airtime, the rookie finds Meeks with a perfect pass. Meeks finishes the play, and the Lakers extended their lead to 15 points in the fourth quarter.
Whether he can regularly tap into this sort of potential remains to be seen, but Kelly is only a 22-year-old kid still fitting into his lanky 6-foot 11-inch frame. Considering his age and relative inexpensive cost--$1 million qualifying offer--Kelly should be brought back to the Lakers next season.
Kelly was a steal on draft day, and his ankle injury and subsequent surgery dropped him down to the second round. That same injury kept him out of training camp and the start of the preseason. Late to the party, Kelly earned a spot on the roster and guaranteed his contract in January.
Throughout the season, he has shown enough to get another season with the Lakers. Injuries thrust the youngster into the starting lineup this season, and this season has provided valuable experience in the young player’s development.
Kelly’s body should add weight and strength in the off-season. His skill set combined with a stronger body could see Kelly perfectly fit into the role of a stretch power forward. Regardless of whether or not the Lakers play the same system next season, Kelly is an easy player to bring back to the team.