We’ve heard Coach K’s statements that it’s when, not if, Ryan Kelly returns. We’ve heard Coach K say Kelly’s been running in the pool. Ryan Kelly himself has said he expects to come back by Senior Night against Virginia Tech a week from today. Will Kelly coming back to the lineup have a positive impact on this Duke team or could it disrupt a team that is gelling at the right time?
In Ryan’s case, he plays a position where, when he does get the ball, the decision he makes with it is usually the best one. He’s a very intelligent player, and he spreads the court.
With the only recent example of this occurring to a Duke team being two years ago with Kyrie Irving, many are quick to point out that bringing Ryan Kelly back into the rotation with so few games left in the season will end up in the same way. While Kelly and Irving were both key players for Duke before going out with injuries for much of the season, their scenarios couldn’t be more different. Before the 2011 season, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski configured the offense around Irving’s talents. They were going from a deliberate plodding offense in 2010 designed to maximize the talents of Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler in the halfcourt to an uptempo style led by Irving’s penetrating ball skills. For 8 games to start the year, it worked. Duke was the best team in the country, outscoring their opponents by 25 points a game.
When Irving went out against Butler, Duke was forced to scratch everything they had spent the whole offseason creating and switch gears completely. The Blue Devils were able to find their groove fairly quickly and ended the regular season with a 27-4 record (13-3 in the ACC). Sound familiar?
It’s not. This year, there’s no Nolan Smith who has had to be pulled out of position to take over the main ballhandling duties. There’s not a major fundamental change in the way the offense is structured. It’s not that replacing Ryan Kelly in the lineup is easier than replacing Kyrie Irving. It’s that replacing a power forward in the lineup is so, so, so much easier than replacing a point guard. Especially one that you’ve designed your offense around.
The loss of Ryan Kelly wasn’t felt as bad on the offensive end as it was on the defensive end. Dan Hanner of RealGM.com wrote an article detailing the difference in Duke’s defense before and after Kelly went out. The column was published just after the Miami loss, and I continue to think that game was an outlier relative to the rest of Duke’s season. It was the only game in which they scored under a point per possession. The just of Hanner’s research was that while Duke’s offensive efficiency had fallen from 119.5 to 115.3 after Kelly went out, Duke’s defensive efficiency dropped by 13 points per 100 possessions – from 82.4 to 95.7. Since I don’t have the adjusted numbers handy, I’ll rely on statsheet.com for their unadjusted efficiency numbers.
Based on these figures, Duke’s splits (with and without Ryan Kelly) look like this even worse than Hanner had chronicled. Duke’s defensive efficiency has fallen down to 102.46 from 87.72. That’s a huge drop. Part of this is due to playing against foes twice in one year (the second time around coaches have figured out different ways to beat teams on defense) and playing against two very offensively efficient teams in NC State and Maryland. Another is the fact that there aren’t any Delawares and Cornells on the schedule anymore.
Clearly, Kelly’s absence on defense has been tremendous and working him back in on that end will not be as difficult as it would be on the offensive end. However, you can see that the offense hasn’t been effected as much without Kelly in there. As Coach K said yesterday, he’s such an intelligent player that the decisions he makes are usually the best ones. While there may be some hiccups when he does return (he’ll likely dress for the Miami game and could play that night), getting him back should be reason for celebration and not concern.