Kelly finds his groove with Lakers

Jan. 22, 2014 @ 09:15 PM

Ryan Kelly is nothing if not patient and persistent.

A reserve his first two seasons at Duke, he battled two foot injuries that marred his final two seasons with the Blue Devils.

The Los Angeles Lakers drafted him in the second round of last June’s NBA Draft, but Kelly was limited in training camp as his foot completed healing. He played five games for the NBA Developmental League’s Los Angeles D-Fenders.

Yet here he is, in late January of his rookie season, starting for the Los Angeles Lakers.

“The organization stuck with me,” Kelly said Wednesday. “They sent me to D-League to get playing time. At first I earned some smaller minutes. It’s been an incredible opportunity, something not many rookies have. I’m very grateful for it.”

Last Friday night, Kelly’s season took a dramatic turn for the better. He scored 20 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter, at Boston. Kelly made two free throws with seven seconds left as the Lakers beat Boston 107-104 to end their six-game losing streak.

Two nights later, in Toronto, Kelly started his first NBA game. He scored 17 points and grabbed five rebounds in a 112-106 Los Angeles win.

Those performances made him the first Lakers rookie since Kobe Bryant in March 1997 to score 17 points or more in back-to-back games.

On Monday night, in Chicago, Kelly followed up with 13 points and seven rebounds in a 102-100 overtime loss to the Bulls.

After playing nine minutes or less in his first six NBA games, Kelly has played 30 minutes or more in his last four.

"He does two or three things that we would like everybody to do," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni told "He battles, he's smart and he makes shots. He will just keep getting better."

Going down to the D-League has proven to be a good thing for Kelly.

“I just took it as an opportunity to get better,” Kelly said. “An opportunity to show what I can do – not just to the Lakers, but every organization in the NBA. Not playing in games that much for NBA team, with less and less practice time once the season started, it was hard to show the Lakers or anyone else what I could do. The D-league gave me an opportunity to do that.”

Joining Kelly in the Lakers starting lineup these days is another young player who used the D-League to aid his career. Former North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall, a former first-round pick by Phoenix who was traded to Washington and cut, is playing well since joining the Lakers. Marshall is averaging 10.1 points and 9.1 assists in 14 games (10 starts).

Although they have fun talking trash about the Blue Devils and Tar Heels, teaming up with a former rival has proven good for both Kelly and Marshall.

“It’s been good,” Kelly said. “I always knew he was a good passer. I don’t mind playing with him as long as he passes me the ball a little. It amazes me how his career has gone. It’s pretty clear he’s a player in this league.”

Kelly and Marshall took in Duke's game at Miami Wednesday night as the Lakers enjoyed a day off in Miami. The Heat and Lakers play Thursday night before the Lakers head to Orlando to face the Magic on Friday.