Kelly & Plumlee: Together Again

Just how much does Ryan Kelly's return mean to Mason Plumlee? The proof is in the numbers as TDD's Shawn Krest demonstrates.

As his team prepared to pay for a berth in the Final Four, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski spoke of the differences between his Blue Devils and the Louisville Cardinals.

"They were interrupted early (in the season), and they haven't been interrupted since then with injury," Krzyzewski said. "We've been interrupted since then."

PF Ryan Kelly, one of Duke's senior leaders and outside shooting threats, missed 13 games in the middle of the ACC schedule with a foot injury. He returned with three games remaining in the regular season, and Duke has worked to reintegrate him in their lineup.

"We're just running a little bit different race than anybody else right now," Krzyzewski said after Kelly's first game back, an epic 36-point outburst against Miami. "It doesn't mean everything is okay, but it's a lot better. We have to transition over the next couple weeks."

As Kelly has worked himself back into the rotation, things haven't always gone smoothly. He's in the midst of a shooting slump, having missed 18 straight 3-pointers heading into the Louisville game. But Louisville coach Rick Pitino sees Kelly's prolonged absence from the lineup as a benefit to the Blue Devils.

"They learned to play without Kelly," Pitino said. "It made them more efficient in other areas. Now he comes back, and they're better."

There's no question that the biggest beneficiary of Kelly's return has been Mason Plumlee. Kelly's ability to shoot and drive stretches a defense, giving Plumlee more room inside to work.

"I think Mason really benefits from having Ryan back, because it makes it tough to double," Krzyzewski said. "If he's one on one in the post, he's pretty successful."

"At Virginia (the last game before Kelly's return), I couldn't touch the ball without seeing two guys," Plumlee said. "I don't think that'll happen as much with him on the floor."

Kelly's positive influence on Plumlee's performance was clear even before his foot injury.

Pre-Injury Shooting % Pts/40min Asts/40 Dunks/40
Plumlee w/Kelly in game .632 22.2 2.3 3.0
Plumlee w/o Kelly .559 20.1 1.8 2.8

Clearly, Duke's spacing was better when Kelly was on the floor early in the season. Plumlee had room to get to the basket, and he also had more passing lanes to find open outside shooters. Duke outscored opponents 86-59 (per 40 minutes) with both Plumlee and Kelly in the game.

With just Plumlee on the floor, they were outscored 69-68.

Starting at halftime of the Clemson game, when Kelly stayed in the locker room nursing his newly-injured foot, the Blue Devils began learning to play without him. Plumlee wasn't as good as he was when playing alongside Kelly, but he was able to do better on his own than he did before Kelly's injury.

With Kelly Injured Shooting % Pts/40min Asts/40 Dunks/40
Plumlee .577 18.3 2.5 2.4

Plumlee passed more and scored less over the next 13 and a half games, becoming a more efficient shooter when defenses collapsed on him.

And since the Miami game, Kelly and Plumlee have clicked again, with Mason's numbers immediately going back to early-season levels. Although his production has dropped off when Kelly leaves the game.

Since the return Shooting % Pts/40min Asts/40 Dunks/40
Plumlee w/Kelly in game .643 20.7 1.9 3.0
Plumlee w/o Kelly .563 13.4 2.1 2.1

Duke outscores opponents 79-64 (per 40 minutes) with both bigs in the game together, almost matching their pre-injury dominance. And, like the early season, they're being outscored with Plumlee in the game alone (63-61).

The numbers seem to indicate that, even in a shooting slump, Kelly still merits respect from opposing defenses, giving Plumlee room to operate inside. When Kelly heads to the bench for rest or due to foul trouble, however, Duke has been beatable.

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