Every draft class has its own unique storylines behind the individual players. This year is no exception, and Kylor Kelley certainly brings his own interesting tale to the table. The seven-foot senior hails from the bustling metropolis of Gervais, Oregon, which boasts a population of 2,748 and is approximately 30 miles south of Portland.
Lackluster academic performance, health issues and a need for physical maturation as a basketball player all contributed to Kelley’s circuitous journey to Oregon State. He had two separate stops at Northwest Christian University (NAIA) and Lane Community College (NJCAA) before arriving at Corvallis and starting for Wayne Tinkle at Oregon State.
The 22-year-old is an older prospect, and there are real reasons for concern about Kelley’s overall game. However, even though the consensus rarely mentions him on draft boards, it is my responsibility to inject him into the NBA Draft discussion as a mid-to-late second-round prospect.
|Position:||C||Team/Class:||Oregon State (Senior)|
|Shot Hand:||Right||Stats:||Click Here|
Let’s begin by discussing Kelley’s offensive efficiency, the first of three unique positive characteristics that the Oregon State product possesses. The senior is an economical frontcourt player; this is evidenced by his career true-shooting percentage of 62.6 and his overall offensive production of 1.35 points per possession (PPP), which ranked at the 97th percentile in Division I this season. He achieves these efficiencies with a consistent diet of powerful dunks, intelligent off-ball cutting, and active movement as the roll-man in pick-and-roll action. Kelley has adequate hands but does not need the ball to be effective. The seven-footer excels at finishing “around the basket” to the tune of 1.44 PPP (94th percentile).
Kelley’s offensive profile and game video give me a reason to believe that he can effectively contribute at the NBA level in the pick and roll (PNR), while also being an effective and opportunistic finisher around the basket via the dunker spot and as an off-ball cutter. This profile can pair nicely on the pro level with a “floor-stretching” frontcourt mate, along with a playmaking engine archetype, such as Kemba Walker or Luka Doncic.
The second positive characteristic that Kelley owns is the most obvious, and possibly the most important: his shot-blocking ability. His elite level of production as a rim protector places him firmly in the discussion with Kira Lewis Jr’s speed, Tyrese Haliburton’s vision, and Aaron Nesmith’s 3-point shooting for possessing one of the most distinctive singular skills of the entire draft class. From a traditional statistical standpoint, Kelley rejected 211 shot attempts in his two-year OSU career, averaging 3.4 blocks per game over his tenure.
Kelley was the defensive anchor in Corvallis, and attained his otherworldly rim-protection statistics with intuitive timing, the underrated ability to block shots with both hands, and his 7-foot-3 wingspan. For opposing rim attackers, Kelley is a nightmare turned reality. The 22-year-old was the premier shot-blocker of the PAC-12 this season with a 13.3 block percentage; no other player in the conference cracked double digits in this respect. For context, Oneyka Onkongwu of USC was a distant second with a percentage of 9.6.
Kelley stays out of foul trouble by resisting the urge to flail at opposing shot fakes; he’s patient and calculated in his efforts. Providing statistical support to my observations is important, and while he is patrolling the paint, opponents shoot just 38 percent “around the basket” for 0.76 PPP (80th percentile). There are at least several NBA teams in search of vertical rim protection, and given time to develop, Kelley is worth the bet to become just that.
The third and final positive trait to consider when evaluating Kelley is his pure athleticism. At seven feet and 215 pounds, the senior sticks out immediately on tape with the fluid way that he gallops down the basketball court. He’s impressive when putting pressure on the opponent’s transition defense as a rim-runner, seeking easy dunks. He also displays speed and timing in defensive transition, reliably sprinting back to protect the basket, and producing quite a few memorable chase-down blocks this past season for the Beavers. Kelley’s innate athleticism has contributed to his rapid improvement. Despite his age, there is a tangible element of natural basketball instincts mixed with his physical profile that provides reason to be optimistic about his trajectory as a prospect.
To summarize, Kylor Kelley is the premier rim protector of this 2020 draft class, has two-way value in PNR action, and is a highly efficient offensive player who accepts his role. These facts keep my intrigue high as an evaluator, and are likely piquing the interest of NBA GM’s, as they consider late second-round and priority two-way contract prospects.
- An overall excellent half-court offensive efficiency profile this season (1.135 PPP, 97th percentile)
- Incredibly efficient offensive player during OSU career (true shooting percentage of 63.6)
- Terrific off-ball cutter (34 percent of offensive diet for 1.44 PPP, 89th percentile)
- Highly efficient in transition (1.27 PPP, 87th percentile)
- Well above average as a PNR roll-man (1.21 PPP, 82nd percentile)
- Above average defending the roll-man in PNR (allowed 0.66 PPP, 75th percentile)
- Above average passing out of the post (0.96 PPP, including derived offense, 70th percentile)
- Elite shot blocker (3.5 BPG); this season, ranked second in the country with a block percentage 13.4, and his career block percentage of 14.6 is the eighth best in NCAA history
- Effective stopping opponents “around the basket,” allowing just 0.76 PPP (80th percentile) and 38 percent shooting this season
- Top-end run/jump athlete with solid length
After digesting the aspects of Kelley’s overall game that make him an attractive prospect, it’s equally essential to discuss the facets which could bring hesitation inside NBA front offices. These factors can be broadly boiled down to his inability to space the floor and to effectively guard “floor spacers” on the defensive end. These are important qualities to consider, especially in today’s NBA, because even at the “5” spot, he could be asked to chase around skilled post players who can inflict damage from the perimeter.
In modern basketball, it’s no secret that existing as a post player who can be ignored as a jump shooter by opponents is a liability. Unfortunately, at this point in his career, Kelley is mostly ignored as a shooting threat. He’s a completely different player than someone like Myers Leonard; Kelley attempted just one three-pointer during his Beaver career. Although this point could be viewed as having self-awareness of his limitations, it surely does not bode well for the supreme spacing that NBA teams seek to run an efficient offense. The prospect’s jumper is not mechanically broken, but a lack of confidence and reps contributes to the current negligible threat from deep. The seven-footer is an incredibly effective finisher around the rim, but will have to rapidly improve his ability to score elsewhere on the court to become a true contributor at the highest level of basketball.
There are a few positive indicators that Kelley’s shooting is improving, namely his percentages from the free-throw line and from midrange. The Oregon native improved from the free-throw line in his senior year on more volume (68%, 77 of 113), surpassing his numbers as a junior (61%, 38 of 62). In the 2019-2020 season, he shot 37.5 percent (18 for 48) inside of 17 feet, showcasing glimpses of a developing turnaround jumper from the post. These observations are real reasons for optimism, but to be straight-forward, Kelley will enter the professional ranks with minimal evidence to force opposing defenses to respect his ability to make an open jumper, and as the game has evolved over the last decade, this is an obstruction to his projected value.
Additionally, although Kelley is an elite rim-protector, there are some holes to poke at his overall defensive presence. He is just an average post-up defender allowing 0.88 PPP (39th percentile). As brilliant as he can be when taking away opponents shots at the rim, in one-on-one post-up battles, Kelley has not always excelled, which highlights the need for additional strength to be added onto his frame to combat opposing post players who will look to bludgeon Kelley in the paint. There is an overall lack of physicality from the Beaver that could damage his ability to effectively rebound in the professional ranks. This is evidenced by his lack of elite rebounding analytics in college; his total rebounding percentage this season (11%) was good for only 24th in the PAC-12.
Kelley can also be deemed ineffective when forced to chase floor-spacing “bigs.” This is a proverbial “double whammy,” as it lures Kelley away from the rim and into the realm of contesting jump-shots. The 22-year-old struggled to defend jumpers this season, allowing 1.02 PPP (28th percentile), and was particularly abysmal defending against 3-pointers, giving up 1.28 PPP (11th percentile), with the opposition shooting an adjusted field-goal percentage of 63.8 on those attempts. At the pro ranks, Kelley could be exposed should he be asked to defend against “small-ball” lineups.
Kelley’s ability to switch onto smaller players is still up for debate. This is likely a crucial factor for deciding his eventual fate at the professional level. In the most conservative of projections, the senior can become a high-energy, athletic rim protector in the vein of a JaVale McGee profile. If Kelley progresses into a post player with “swtichability” — the ability to defend guards and wings for individual possessions — his value could skyrocket. There are times when he shows a unique ability to recover around the rim and emphatically erase opposing guards’ attempts. There are also times when a simple hesitation dribble or crossover move can leave him flummoxed and completely out of position against smaller and quicker assignments. This undecided factor of his defensive capabilities could end up writing his story.
- Older prospect (22.9 years old)
- Ineffective floor spacer (one attempted 3-pointer in two years at OSU)
- Slightly below-average free-throw shooter (68.1 percent this season)
- Below average post-up defender (allowed 0.88 PPP, 39th percentile)
- Average post-up offensive player (0.82 PPP, 54th percentile)
- Struggles to defend “stretch bigs” (allowed 1.28 PPP from 3-point distance, 11th percentile)
- Concerns over his ability to switch on defense; an elite run/jump athlete but needs to improve lateral mobility
- Not an elite rebounder, lacking physicality and overall strength
Throughout this report, the positives and negatives of Kylor Kelley’s overall basketball game should now be evident. The Oregon State senior is a solid value at the back half of the second round due to his positive attributes, and should be a high priority 2-way contract signee if he goes undrafted. Consider this your introduction to a lesser-known draft hopeful, who, in my opinion, we will eventually see contributing at the NBA level.
Sources, Credits, and Acknowledgements: Stats used in our scouting reports come from Synergy Sports Technology, RealGM.com, and Sports-Reference.com. Other outside sources are noted with links to the source. Some background information, video highlights, and photos were courtesy of Oregon State Athletics. Special thanks to Kylor Kelley for giving T.J. Brown, Rich Harris, and I the opportunity to interview him on July 27. Click here to see the full interview and his highlights.