Doug McDermott's impact on Creighton goes beyond the 23.2 points and 7.6 rebounds he averages. (Al Tielemans/ Sports Illustrated)
Ryan Kelly helps Duke win without ever touching the ball and Creighton's Doug McDermott should be a first round pick. The principle that ties these two statements is a theory driven by the advanced stats movement: having four shooters on the floor dramatically increases a unit's efficiency. That's how Ryan Kelly helps Duke when shooting the ball poorly or without shooting it at all. And it's the reason that a smart NBA team will take Doug McDermott in the tail end of the first round; both of their contributions have as much to do with floor spacing as with achievement.
It's easy to get seduced by Ryan Kelly's scoring ability and think that his biggest contribution to Duke is points. It isn't. Ryan Kelly improves Duke in subtle ways. The first is obvious; his ability to shoot spreads the floor and opens up driving lanes for his guards. But his impact goes far beyond that. His presence changes the types of lineups that head coach Mike Krzyzewski can put on the floor without sacrificing floor spacing. Without Kelly, Coach Krzyzewski is forced to go small when he wants shooters on the court, as big men Mason Plumlee and backups Josh Hairston and Amile Jefferson aren't threats from the perimeter. To play two of these bigs without Kelly means sacrificing floor spacing, and to go small with Tyler Thornton means sacrificing defense and rebounding. Kelly eliminates this catch-22. His shooting allows the backup bigs to get on the court, and his defensive ability protects Duke's mediocre perimeter defenders along the back line, allowing Coach Krzyzewski to have his team play his trademark, tight man-to-man defense.
NBA teams are figuring out the value of shooters upon their teammates. Former Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy's success with Rashard Lewis at the power forward position around Dwight Howard has led to an increase in "stretch fours;" players like Ryan Anderson and Ersan Ilyasova are getting fat contracts due to their ability to stretch defenses, and limited players such as Matt Bonner and Steve Novak are the new sweethearts of stat geeks everywhere due to the high efficiency offenses show with four shooters on the court. This bodes well for Doug McDermott, a gifted collegiate scorer whose primary NBA-level talent is his quick release and deep range. McDermott is a tweener at the NBA-level, not quick enough to guard threes and not strong or explosive enough to guard 4s, but with NBA teams investing in the new SVU system, they have new tools to measure the value of a shooter in ways traditional stats can't.
These new tools promise to unlock the value of shooters, and dramatically increase the draft stock of players that can stretch the defense such as Ryan Kelly and Doug McDermott. At the college-level, that effect is more difficult to measure. There is a smaller sample size and good players spend less time off the court so it's difficult to compare their "on/off" numbers. But there is every reason to suspect that the effect is larger; with fewer quality shooters at the college level there is likely an even greater gain to be had from a pure-shooting big man. It's easy to see how a point guard can affect the team without scoring, but McDermott and Kelly open up the floor in different ways. They demand defensive attention without so much as touching the ball. So when Duke's Seth Curry slices into the paint for a floater, or Creighton's Greg Echenique has time to take three dribbles in the post, take a glance at the spacing created by Ryan Kelly and Doug McDermott. Because NBA scouts sure will be.
is a former Penn basketball player and Marshall Scholar at the University of Oxford. He will be an assistant professor of public policy at Rutgers-Camden University this fall.