After setting scoring a career-high 20 points in the Los Angeles Lakers 107-104 win over the Phoenix Suns, Forward Ryan Kelly has earned his first career start on Sunday against the Toronto Raptors.
The 22-year-old has come along way this season for the Lakers as he only appeared in four games in the first month and a half of the regular season. But since the team’s Christmas day game against the Miami Heat, Kelly has played double digit minutes in the last 12 games that include the last two games of over 30 minutes of action.
He took advantage of the increased playing time that head coach Mike D’Antoni has given him as he displayed in Friday’s game what he could provide the Lakers when given a sufficient amount of minutes. In the team’s win over the Boston Celtics, Kelly was aggressive offensively as he made 6-of-12 of his shot attempts that included going 6-of-6 from the free throw line.
He also grabbed four rebounds, with his last one and two free throws sealed the deal for a Los Angeles’ win that snapped a six-game losing streak.
What Kelly demonstrated against Boston was that he could be an effective player in D’Antoni system. He fits the mold of D’Antoni’s ideal stretch forward, who can expand the floor by using his outside shooting.
“He’s going to give us toughness and smarts and move the ball and hopefully he’ll hit open shots,” D’Antoni said. “I just think we’re a better team when we can spread the floor. That’s nothing against anybody, except it’s better for Wes [Johnson]. He has better games when we can spread the floor. It’s better for Pau [Gasol] when we can spread the floor. It’s better for Kendall [Marshall]. So, that’s one of the things we like to do. We have a better tempo, better rhythm and everything is a little bit better.”
Kelly knows that that he has a prime opportunity on Sunday to make a stake for himself as the team’s starting power forward, but in order to do that he must remain confident shooting the ball when he is on the court like was against Boston.
“Coach thought I brought pretty good energy [against Boston] and I worked my tail off, so he thought I earned it,” Kelly said. “It’s another incredible opportunity and it’s something I need to take advantage of and just play the way I’ve been playing. It’s not just about the fact that last game I scored more than I had, it’s just playing with confidence, playing aggressive and being there for my teammates defensively.”
Ultimately, Sunday’s game will be the most important game of Kelly’s young career as his performance will likely dictate his future in the Lakers’ starting lineup. So with that said, it will either be Kelly’s time to shine or if he struggles it may be awhile before his earns another chance to start.
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