Incoming freshman Ryan Kelly arrives at Duke with very good credentials. Most recently, he won the three point shooting contest at the 2009 McDonald’s All-American game. Being a 6′10″ forward with the ability to stretch defenses with a reliable jumper is definitely a plus. As a high school senior, Kelly led Ravenscroft to the NCISAA Championship game where the Ravens lost to Mason Plumlee and Christ School. Kelly scored 14 points in the game and was named to the All-State team. Last summer, as a member of the U18 National Team, Kelly started all five games averaging 8.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game in helping the USA win the Silver Medal in Formosa, Argentina.
Timing could be perfect for Kelly as Duke will be short on guards this coming season forcing Coach Krzyzewski to play a larger line-up. Common speculation is Kyle Singler will be spending significant time at small forward, which will open the opportunity for Ryan Kelly to earn playing time in the power forward slot. Due to his perimeter skills, it is possible Kelly could see some minutes at small forward.
Kelly is often compared to former Blue Devil great Mike Dunleavy. Dunleavy averaged 9.1 points in 24 minutes per game as a freshman. Similar stats from Kelly would go a long way in boosting front court scoring for Duke. Over the past three seasons, front court scoring has been one dimensional for the Blue Devils. In 2007, Josh McRoberts averaged 13 ppg with Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek contributing 4 ppg and 3.1 ppg respectively. In 2008, Kyle Singler averaged 13.3 ppg with Thomas and Zoubek chipping in 4.3 and 3.8. It was the same in 2009 as Singler averaged 16.5 with Thomas and Zoubek adding 5.3 and 4.1.
In 2009-10, Ryan Kelly represents a potential legitimate second scoring option in the front court alongside Kyle Singler. In a past BDN article, Tom Konchalski, editor of High School Basketball Insider Report, described Kelly, “Ryan has so much more fluidity to his game…He’s got nearly a perfect skill set for a guy 6 9…He’s a step out four man, who has very good skills.” In a BDN interview last December, Mark Watson asked Ryan if the Duke staff had told Kelly to work on any part of his game. Kelly responded, “Yeah…continue to work on my defense. They want me to be able to guard smaller players out front.”
That response provides a nice segue to discussing defense. Duke is known for their pressure man-to-man defense and to earn playing time players must be able to defend “Duke style.” While Kelly has impressive offensive skills, the question on informed minds is can Kelly play ACC level defense as a freshman? Is he strong enough to defend power forwards? Does he possess the lateral quickness to defend on the wing?
The answers to those questions will determine how much time Ryan Kelly spends on the court this coming season. The Blue Devils need front court scoring and Ryan Kelly has the potential to score points, but it will be his defensive abilities that earn him the opportunity to show the Cameron Crazies he has the right stuff.