How Will Ryan Kelly’s Absence Affect Duke? Examining the Alternatives at the PF Position…Posted by EMann on January 12th, 2013
With Duke’s first big ACC road test against pre-season conference favorite NC State looming on Saturday, all eyes have turned to how the Blue Devils will function without stretch forward Ryan Kelly. Kelly, who has been red-hot in Duke’s last three games as teams have started to meet NPOY candidate Mason Plumlee with frequent double-teams, is a huge component of Duke’s offense. Kelly leads Duke in offensive rating and for the season is shooting over 50% from the arc.
While nothing seems certain, most people are estimating Kelly to be out for around a month, depending on how the foot (which is not fractured) responds to treatment. This opens up a phenomenal opportunity for Duke over this period to establish something that they have struggled with this season: post depth. Duke has essentially used a 6.5 man rotation this year, with its bench consisting of Tyler Thornton (over 20 minutes per game), along with junior Josh Hairston, will start at Kelly’s position in his absence, who averages just over 11 minutes a game. Freshmen Alex Murphy (5.6 mpg)and Amile Jefferson (8.8 mpg) are also likely to see extended minutes at the 4 with Kelly being out with his injury.
Hairston certainly has the most experience of the three, but he has really struggled on the offensive side of the ball this year. Shooting only 37% from the field and 56% from the free throw line while averaging just 1.7 points per game, he will certainly be the fifth option offensively when he is on the court. Murphy, who started in two of Duke’s exhibition games but then dropped almost completely out of the rotation, is probably the best outside shooter of the three, and has a game most similar to Kelly’s of the three. However, he is not nearly as good at Kelly from the perimeter (though he has only attempted nine three-pointers), and is averaging just 2.2 points per game, albeit in limited minutes. Jefferson is probably the most pure post player of the three, but he is a bit undersized at around 200 pounds. He is shooting over 50% from the field this season and does have bursts of explosion, while averaging just over 3 points per game.
Especially in Duke’s matchup against NC State, a more important consideration may be defense, as Ryan Kelly was Duke’s leading shot-blocker and one of its most improved defenders. Will any of the three-headed platoon be able to match Kelly’s contributions defensively? It isn’t likely and there is no way that they will be able to match Kelly’s performance on offense. Regardless, assuming Duke emerges from the Kelly-less period relatively unscathed (most people are estimating he will be out about a month), the rewards could be quite high, as Duke could have some more options in the post in case of foul trouble or other extenuating circumstances.