Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Is Olynyk a part of the Celtics Plans?

Photo: Getty Images

In the aftermath of the Rajon Rondo trade, it’s time to look to the future and examine how current Celtics big man Kelly Olynyk is doing in his second NBA season so far. There have been great stretches for Olynyk this season especially in the month of December (13.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 54-percent from the field, and 34-percent from the 3) in 26 minutes as a sixth-man, once he lost his starting job. But he also had low-scoring games and at times has been benched like the first three games in 2015 (2.3 PPG, 3 RPG, 14.3 minutes per game).

 Here's a look at the power-forward/center:

Olynyk was drafted in the 2013 NBA draft by the Dallas Mavericks with the 13th pick, he then was immediately traded to the Celtics for the 17th pick and two future second round picks. Olynyk had a great college career, but his athleticism, strength, and defense all came into question pre-draft.

Personally, I love his game and hope he can get better and have a great career with the Celtics. A fair sample size of his second season, I think it’s fair to start to analyze Olynyk’s progression as a player and future role he may have. He has had an up and down 2014-15 season, with a period of ten or so very strong games, but has struggled to find consistent minutes since Brad Stevens has decided to go with a 12-deep rotation as of late especially after the acquisition of Brandan Wright, Jae Crowder and Jameer Nelson two and half weeks ago.


Olynyk’s strengths and what makes him such a unique NBA player is his combination of three point shooting ability and his 7-foot frame. He is already shooting threes at 37-percent, which is a very high level from deep so far this year, despite being in a bit of a slump the last week. That is a slight improvement from his 35-percent clip he shot from deep a year ago. The shooting becomes more important considering he is seven-feet and capable at times of playing center. His ability to shoot forces the other teams bigs to come out of the paint and defend the three. A good example of this was not too long ago against the Magic, early in the game Olynyk got the ball in the 3pt line on the left wing. Normally centers can play off this and guard the hoop, which is what Nik Vucevic did, and Olynyk proceeded to drain a wide open three. For the rest of the game Vucevic was forced to guard him heavily on the perimeter which opened up the lane for the rest of the Celtics players like Jared Sullinger. Interesting to note is how Sullinger succeeds with Olynyk on the floor verses Tyler Zeller, a more traditional center that cannot shoot threes. This is due to Olynyk drawing out the opposing center and leaving Sullinger more space to operate down low. Olynyk’s shooting is not only a great weapon for him, but also helps his teammates in more ways than people appreciate. If his shooting continues to improve, he could turn into one of the more deadly stretch big men in the league.

Photo: Getty Images

Another Strength of Olynyk is his ability to drive and pump fake. Now that the league is beginning to respect his outside shooting ability to a certain degree, the driving lane is beginning to open up for him. When big defenders close out on him, Olynyk uses a nifty pump fake and good first step to get around the defender and into the lane, where he has an array of moves to finish and good ability to make passes for a big.

Anyone remember the and-one-dunk he had against the Magic over Kyle O’Quinn? That came of off a kick out to Olynyk on the three-point line, and Olynyk pumped to create a driving lane and finished well in traffic for a chance at a three-point play. Olynyk also has an above average passing ability for a big, whether it’s a drive and kick or a pass out of the post.


The glaring weakness for Kelly Olynyk right now is his defensive ability and his rebounding. Even though he is 7 ft tall, he does not have the athleticism or the length to be a consistent shot blocker or rim protector in the NBA yet. He tends to miss defensive assignments and is not fast enough or quick enough to defend effectively against perimeter players too, so against certain teams with bad matchups, Olynyks minutes can be really limited. A great example of this was against the Bulls when Olynyk only played 13 minutes including overtime because the length of the Bulls frontcourt was just too much.

Olynyk might never be a true defensive center who protects the rim, but there is hope for him. With lots of work and studying, he can be a serviceable player on defense by improving his positioning, footwork, and strength. Only being 23-years-old, he still has a lot of time to develop on the defensive side and improve.

Rebounding the ball he is not as bad, but a concerning statistic is his per 36 rebounding numbers this year and last. Last year he was averaging 9.4 rebounds per 36 minutes, but this year it has slipped to 7.8. This can partially be explained by Tyler Zeller’s playing more minutes ahead of Olynyk, but you would like to see a young 7-footer improve his rebounding numbers. Olynyk definitely needs to improve his strength and positioning to get better on the defensive side of the court so he can play more than 13 minutes verse bigger teams.

Some areas on offense Olynyk can improve upon are his low post game and his confidence. You can see some games he is hesitant to shoot an open shot. With his shooting ability and Brad Steven’s offense, he should never really turn down an open shot. When he scored his 30-points (career-high) against the 76ers last month, he did so because he wasn’t afraid to shoot whenever he had the space, and you could tell he wasn’t thinking twice about it. But other times he goes through stretches where he’s open and kind of hesitates before shooting or just passing, and that’s how he gets on his slumps.

In the low post, Olynyk has some additions he can make to his game. He doesn't have go-to post-up moves – which is fine since he is more of a stretch big, but he should develop some so he can take smaller defenders on the block. Too often when Olynyk is in the post he ends up trying to take a fade away because he doesn't have the strength or footwork to go up strong around the basket. Developing a hook shot with either hand in the post could really help his game, especially since he is such a good passer from the block already.

All in all, Olynyk has shown some great promise so far in his second season, especially on the offensive-side of the ball. However, if he wants to be a good player and become a starter again or key guy in the NBA for years to come, he needs to continue to work on parts of his game mentioned above. I think the most important thing for him to work on this season and the upcoming off-season is his strength, defensive positioning and footwork. This will help him be able to hold up against tougher, bigger teams and will allow him to showcase his great offensive skill more.

Will Burke
Follow me on twitter: @will_nba33

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