A major player during Kansas State's outstanding 2010 tournament run, UConn transfer Curtis Kelly had a breakout junior season. After seeing limited playing time in his first two seasons in the NCAA and struggling with his consistency on the court and in the classroom, Kelly has blossomed under Frank Martin. With one season of eligibility remaining, Kelly will have a chance to build on what he and his team accomplished last season and position himself for the upcoming draft. Though he's come a long way since his days under Jim Calhoun, Kelly has some clearly defined weaknesses than he'll need to work on moving forward.
A key aspect of Kelly's progress since his transfer has been his body weight. During his time at UConn, Kelly gained a considerable amount of bulk, developing some bad habits that weren't helping his efforts to get his career with the Huskies pointed in the right direction. Since enrolling at Kansas State, Kelly has worked himself into considerably better condition, and while he could still stand to add some muscle to his frame to help him score down low at the next level, he showed last season that he can make an impact on the college level with his excellent wingspan, solid athleticism, and ability to run the floor. Athletically, Kelly wouldn't stand out against NBA competition, since he lacks a degree of explosiveness, but his length is definitely going to be an asset for him down the road.
Despite not showing great burst in his first step, Kelly's skill level allows him to create opportunities for himself on the offensive end. Almost a third of Kelly's touches come in the post according to Synergy Sports Technology, and he couples an ability to score over either shoulder with good footwork and a suddenness that lets him to open up space to get his shot off from in close. Showing exceptional touch on his jump hook and using quick jabs and rip throughs to get his man off balance when facing up, Kelly shot just under 50% in post-up situations last season, ranking him amongst the top players in college basketball in that category.
When he isn't going to work in the post, Kelly proves capable of making an impact on the offensive end in a number of other ways. A very capable finisher thanks to his long arms and willingness to take contact, Kelly does a good job crashing the offensive glass, running the floor in transition, and putting himself in position to benefit from his teammates' penetration, getting to the free throw line at an outstanding rate.
That helps him compensate for the fact that he is one of the more turnover prone players in the NCAA per-40 minutes. Putting the ball on the floor almost every time he looks to score on the block, Kelly isn't a poor ball-handler, but turns the ball over because of how frequently he operates quite a bit in traffic and the periodic erratic passes he throws when he can't create an opening. It's clear that Kelly's basketball IQ can't be described as anything more than just average.
As much as Kelly could stand to improve his decision-making, it would be just as beneficial for him to shore up his perimeter shooting ability in the long run. Kelly has range out to 17-feet, and has fairly solid touch and consistency with time and his feet set. His shooting mechanics break down when he has a hand in his face, though, and he tends to drift whenever he looks to shoot off the dribble. With some raw pieces in place, Kelly would benefit from some extra work on his shot, as it would certainly add to what he could bring to a team at the next level and help with his improved, but still questionable free throw shooting.
Defensively, Kelly showed that he has the tools to make an impact at the college level. He doesn't have great lateral quickness, but his length allows him to effectively contest shots. Kelly has no issue sacrificing his body on the defensive end, and is amongst the top per-40 shot blockers in our database. Kelly's biggest weakness is his inability to contain penetration, something that will be much more difficult for him to mask at the next level, meaning his ability to add weight and shore up his rebounding and post defense will be that much more beneficial. He's also just an average defensive rebounder, which is something NBA teams will surely want to see him improve on.
With Denis Clemente moving on, Curtis Kelly is a strong candidate to use some of the possessions he left behind. If Kelly can show improved consistency as a shooter, continue to score at the rim, and maintain his focus on and off the court consistently, he could build on last season's breakout year and put himself firmly on the draft radar. Considering that last season was his first seeing heavy minutes, his play this season will be that much more important to his draft stock. Despite his shortcomings, Kelly is a player to keep an eye on as Kansas State looks to make another tournament run this season.