Lost amidst the Jared Sullinger weight-loss chronicles, the Marcus Smart hype, and the battle for the final roster spot, is a Boston Celtics player who deserves more attention than he’s getting. Here are some clues: he’s one of Boston’s 7-footers, he starred for the Canadian Men’s National team this past summer, and he’s an aspiring Shaggy Rogers. If you guessed Kelly Olynyk, then you’re right.
Olynyk, one of Boston’s many talented big men, is competing for a spot in Coach Brad Stevens’ rotation. Olynyk has not been in the forefront of our minds because he will become a free agent in 2017, assuming the team picks up his fourth-year option. However, it is not too early to begin thinking about his future with the Celtics.
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The former 16th overall draft pick in 2013, has had some success in his brief NBA career. In his second season with the Celtics, Olynyk averaged 10.3 points in 22.2 minutes per game. He also shot the ball well from the field and from the three: 47.5% and 34.9% respectively. He primarily came off the bench, but has started 13 games for the Celts.
What makes Olynyk special is that he’s not a traditional 7-footer. He is more comfortable playing on the perimeter than in the paint. His shooting stretches behind the three-point line and he is currently one of Boston’s best shooting bigs from that range. Though he might help the team’s spacing, Olynyk’s one-dimensional play hurts the Celtics on defense.
He’s the antithesis of a rim protector, owning .5 blocks per game in his career, which is unusual for someone his size. Olynyk is also a sub-par rebounder, averaging 4.7 rebounds last year. This summer the Celtics signed the 6′ 9″ Amir Johnson to help address these two areas of concern, leaving Olynyk’s future with the team in question.
Olynyk is not a physical player, hurting his production not only on defense, but on offense too. At times he struggles when backing down opponents on offense and likewise on defense when opponents post him up. Coach Stevens praises big men who can spread the floor, yet more importantly he stresses the importance of defense to the team.
Olynyk’s future with the Celtics will become more clear after this season. Further improvements on both ends of the floor will help him make his case, but another season of mediocrity will further cement him as the above-average role player that he might become. Olynyk, 24, has plenty of time to develop, yet it remains uncertain the type of player he’ll become.
FiveThirtyEight’s project CARMELO (Career-Arc Regression Model Estimator with Local Optimization) has mixed projections for Olynyk, including Boston great Robert Parish and former all-star Detlef Schrempf as the potential kinds of players Olynyk could develop into.
Jan 16, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics center Kelly Olynyk (41) drives to the hoop against Chicago Bulls guard Aaron Brooks (0) during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Celtics Nation would be thrilled if Olynyk had a career as successful as Parish or Schrempf, but the chances of that happening are slim since not every lottery pick develops into an all-star.
Stevens’ finalized big man rotation will either help or hinder Olynyk’s development, affecting his future with the team. If he can earn his way into Boston’s frontcourt rotation then he’ll make his case for an extension next year. His further development will depend on the performances of Tyler Zeller and Jared Sullinger who are both in contract years.
Not to read too much into Stevens’ rotations in the first two preseason games, it seems like Sullinger might be the odd man out and in line for significantly reduced playing time.
If this speculation is true, Olynyk will get a chance to showcase himself in extended playing time. Olynyk will need to continue his hot streak from the summer in order to make his case for a contract extension with the Celtics. Earning a spot in Brad Stevens’ frontcourt rotation certainly is a step in the right direction.