Ever since the return of Ryan Kelly, the Duke Blue Devils have gone back to looking like the unstoppable team they appeared to be in the first half of the season.
It is no question that Kelly has sparked the Blue Devils, with the senior-power forward being a large upgrade over junior Josh Hairston and freshman Amile Jefferson, who were tasked with filling the hole Kelly left when he went down with an injury in early January. Just how big of an upgrade is Kelly when he is in the lineup compared to Jefferson and Hairston, though? Let’s take a look.
The Eye Test
You don’t even need to look at the stats to see how big of a difference Ryan Kelly makes. Jefferson and Hairston both lack perimeter skills, which confines them to sticking around the post area. This would be fine if either player possessed above-average skills in the post, but, unfortunately, Hairston has the offensive prowess of a corgi and Jefferson hasn’t developed enough, yet, to be a force down low.
When Kelly is in the game, Duke’s offense, which is built around spreading the floor and moving around the perimeter, runs at a ridiculously smoother pace. When you consider that Kelly isn’t too shabby when it comes to working with the ball in his hands, it opens up Duke’s playbook that much more.
Defensively, he gives them a versatile defender that can alter shots from just about any spot on the court. This is essential in the paint, where Duke struggled mightily without him.
Statistics, Part One: Offense
|True Shooting %||0.640||0.556||0.488|
|Points Per 26 minutes||14.6||8.8||5.4|
These stats say all you need to know about Kelly’s upgrade on offense. He brings another perimeter weapon to an offense that is built around them, and his 136 ORtg is off the charts. I think the biggest difference is the fact that Kelly is shooting 53.1% from beyond the arc while Jefferson and Hairston have only shot one three-pointer this entire season, combined. This isn’t a knock on Jefferson or Hairston, because their game isn’t built around the ability to shoot the three, but Kelly’s ridiculous shooting pace from beyond the arc makes Duke so much more dangerous with him on the court.
Statistics, Part Two: Defense
|Total Rebound %||11.5||13.6||9.4|
We can conclude two things from this chart:
- Hairston is just about as close to being worthless on defense as you can be
- Ryan Kelly actually isn’t that significant of an upgrade over Amile Jefferson
Jefferson has been solid on defense, putting up a higher TRB% and nearly as many DWS as Kelly. While Jefferson has played in 11 more games than Kelly, Kelly has played in 105 more minutes. Jefferson appears to be close to the same exact player as Kelly on defense, so we won’t focus on those two.
What we can focus on, however, is the difference between Kelly and Hairston, and it is gigantic. On no planet should a power forward be putting up a Block % of 1.5, and his 100 DRtg is hideous. Since the midpoint of the season, I’ve been calling for all of Hairston’s minutes to be given to Jefferson, and now, with Kelly back and health, I am even more adamant about it. A combination of Kelly-Jefferson is far more valuable than a combination of Kelly-Hairston-tiny bit of Jefferson.
If Coach K wants to optimize his lineup, he’ll take the minutes that he keeps giving to Hairston and give them all to Jefferson. Amile is the better all-around player, especially now that Josh Hairston has it in his head that he should take more jump shots, and a Kelly-Jefferson combo could put this Duke team over the top and establish them as the best team in the country.
So, while Kelly has consistently been a far more valuable player than Hairston or Jefferson, Duke has actually limited the impact of his return by banishing Jefferson to the bench since Kelly’s return. If Coach K were to simply swap Hairston and Jefferson’s minutes, there would be no understating how significant of an impact Kelly’s comeback and his presence has had.