Story by KL Chouinard
When asked to sum up the 2016-17 season for both himself and the team, Ryan Kelly seized on the opportunity to lighten the mood with some self-deprecating math.
“For me personally, I was waived twice by the Hawks, but I was signed three times so it ended alright,” Kelly laughed. “I think there’s a bright future for this organization. Guys got better, and I feel like I got better as a player here.”
Even if Kelly filled the role of 15th player on a 15-person roster, there were signs that he was exactly the player who the Hawks had hoped for. For instance, he shot 40.0 percent on his threes this season. For a player hoping to be a rotation stretch power forward, that’s a big priority.
And then, of course, there was the one instance where the Hawks counted on Kelly in an important role this season: in the April 7 road game in Cleveland against the now-Eastern Conference Champion Cavaliers. With the Hawks’ postseason status still in doubt, the team rested five regular players and turned over big roles to the bench. Kelly filled the stat sheet with 4 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks. More impressively, the Hawks outscored the Cavs by 21 points in the 20 minutes that Kelly played.
As far as offseason plans go, Kelly said that he planned on working with the Hawks’ training staff.
“Obviously I want to be able to show them that I’m improving,” he said. “I’m going to be spending my time mostly in Atlanta and working on my game: working on my body, getting stronger, getting laterally quicker so I can be a better defender – and then just shoot, shoot, shoot.”
Kelly said the the teams wants him to be a bit more aggressive in his approach to taking shots.
“I’ve always been somebody who likes to get other people involved, even as a big guy,” Kelly said. “To really be that knockdown shooter, then any time I have an inch of space, (I have) to be able to let it go. That’s really something that I’ve been working on a lot this year.”
For evidence of his changed shooting mentality, Kelly once again flashed the sense of humor that made him an ideal person to have in the locker room.
“Obviously I haven’t been able to show it that much in games, but maaaan, if you could watch those scrimmages out there you might see it,” Kelly quipped as he nodded toward the practice court.
Then Kelly stepped back and took the long, philosophical view.
“But those are the things that you have to do,” Kelly said. “The league is that way sometimes. I’ve had an opportunity to play a lot (in other seasons), and I’ve had a chance to sit and watch, and I feel like I’ve grown in watching the game and watching a style of play that I think that I really fit in well with. And there’s a reason that I’m still here. Even though a lot of fans and people didn’t get to see me play that much, hopefully I can be part of the future here. I don’t think I would have been brought back – twice – if they didn’t believe in me.”