LOS ANGELES — On Thursday night, former Tar Heel Mitch Kupchak deferred to what he called his “split loyalty” when he selected Duke’s Ryan Kelly with the 48th pick in the NBA Draft.
Kelly’s name was hardly one of the most talked-about in the weeks leading up to the draft, but a right foot injury that bothered him throughout his senior season played a large part in his remaining somewhat off the radar. However, when the Lakers’ pick came around late in the draft, Kelly was the Lakers’ highest-rated player left available. There were other highly rated players remaining, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said, but none of Kelly’s caliber.
“It’s unusual to get a guy who’s 6-11, 6-11 1/2 who has a skill like he has,” Kupchak said. “It’s a unique opportunity, a big guy who has an NBA frame.”
Kelly, a stretch four, played four seasons at Duke, averaging 12.9 points and 5.3 rebounds in 28.9 minutes per game in his senior year. He shot 46 percent from the field over the course of his college career, and his 42.2 percent mark from 3-point range his senior season was the best of his years at Duke. Kelly is fourth in Duke history in career winning percentage; the Blue Devils went 111-15 (.881) with Kelly on their roster.
Kelly missed 13 games at the last season with that foot injury, which he sustained at the end of his junior season. He underwent surgery after the conclusion the season in early April, and with the 12-week recovery the procedure necessitated, he was unable to work out for teams before the draft. After the season, he admitted that his foot had hampered his play throughout, but after consulting with doctors over the winter, he elected to play through the injury once it was determined that doing so would not worsen the problem.
Kelly is currently at Week 11 in his recovery process, and after X-rays last week showed full healing in his foot, he’s confident that he’ll be back to full health in the near future. In fact, Kelly was cleared to play early, after just 10 weeks, but he expressed to Kupchak that he’d rather wait out the full 12 weeks before returning to play. Kupchak said that he does not anticipate that Kelly will play for the Lakers’ summer league squad.
Kelly’s coach at Duke, Mike Krzyzewski, has coached the U.S. national team since 2005, and he’s worked closely with both Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard in that role. Kelly touted Krzyzewski’s influence and the exposure he gained playing for the coach and in such a high-profile program.
“He talks about them all the time,” Kelly said in a Thursday conference call, speaking of the players on the national team. “I got a chance to meet Kobe last summer when I was in Las Vegas when they were practicing. I look forward to learning from one of the greatest players of all time.”
With the Lakers’ roster situation, Kelly could see major minutes, likely more than the players picked around him in Thursday night’s draft. No matter what transpires with the Lakers’ big men, the team seems unlikely to retain both Pau Gasol and Howard, and beyond that, the team’s frontcourt as it stands is weak.
“I’ve been handed a great opportunity, and I really look forward to taking advantage of it,” Kelly said. “It’s hard to put into words how excited I am.”