Gonzaga Basketball: Why Kelly Olynyk Is Nation's Best Big Man and Potential POY

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Gonzaga Basketball: Why Kelly Olynyk Is Nation's Best Big Man and Potential POY
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk is the best big man in college basketball.  You can quote me on that.

Don’t let his motto, long hair or "don’t care" attitude fool you.  Olynyk’s emergence as a college basketball powerhouse stems from hard work during his redshirt season a year ago and throughout the current season.  

Kelly Olynyk is no longer a bench player as he was his first two seasons.  He is also no longer as prone to fouling—or making SportsCenter's Top 10 one night and Not Top 10 the next—as he was just earlier this season.

No, what you see today is a product of intensity and hard work.  What you see today is one of the best players in all of college basketball.

Before his breakout season this year, Olynyk was just a true seven footer, afraid of the physicality of the paint and content with shooting from the perimeter. 

Fast forward one year, and Olynyk has driven Gonzaga to a 29-2 record and a seat atop the AP and Coaches polls.  He has consistently been a factor for the Bulldogs, and his play has inspired many to call Gonzaga a favorite to reach Atlanta in March.

His stats speak for themselves.  Olynyk averages 17.7 points, seven rebounds and close to two assists each game.  As a center, he shoots 66.8 percent from the field and an incredible 37.5 percent from beyond the arc.

Olynyk’s numbers are even more staggering when you consider that, on average, he only plays 25.6 minutes a game.  This is due, in large part, to Olynyk’s ability to dominate opposing frontcourts—as a result, Gonzaga has been able to wrap most games up by halftime. 

What would Olynyk’s numbers be like if he played more minutes? If you adjust Olynyk’s scoring to a per 40 minutes played measure, he would average 27.6 PPG and 10.9 RPG. 

Furthermore, Olynyk has twice had multiple-game stretches with over 20 points, including a back-to-back stretch of over 30 points.

As if that was not impressive enough, in a game against BYU, Olynyk had a rare perfect game.  In that game, he shot 9-of-9 from the field and 8-of-8 from the free-throw line.

Olynyk’s ability to be efficient with the time he has is evidence of his greatest strengths: his patience and selflessness.  Despite limited minutes, you will never see Kelly Olynyk try to pad his numbers or force any shots.  The offense flows through Olynyk as much as it is facilitated by him. 

Before anyone attempts to say that Olynyk has only stood out amongst the weaker competition of the WCC, let me provide a more clear view of his complete body of work.

Olynyk scored 20 points against Jordan Henriquez of Kansas State, 21 points against Isaiah Austin of Baylor, 21 points against Le’Bryan Nash of Oklahoma State, 22 points against Brock Motum of Washington State, a combined 48 points against Brad Waldow of St. Mary’s and a combined 45 points against Brandon Davies of BYU.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The big man from Canada always shows up on the biggest stages—clearly, he has more than demonstrated his ability to score against some of the most talented frontcourt players and teams in the country. 

To further put Olynyk in perspective, lets take a look at how he stacks up with other elite big men.

 

Kelly Olynyk: 17.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG. Adjusted: 27.6 PPG, 10.9 RPG

Cody Zeller: 16.5 PPG, 8.1 RPG.  Adjusted: 22.8 PPG, 11.3 RPG.

Doug McDermott: 23.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG.  Adjusted: 29.6 PPG, 9.7 RPG

Jeff Withey: 13.8 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 4.0 BPG.  Adjusted: 18.1 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 5.2 BPG

*Note: Adjusted to a per 40 minute basis

 

Cody Zeller, the preseason favorite for player of the year and a likely lottery pick, has similar numbers to Olynyk, but with more play time.  However, adjusted to a per 40 minute basis, Olynyk’s numbers are better than the Indiana big man.

Some would argue that Olynyk must score more for Gonzaga to compete based on the talent around him.  That is to say, Zeller only scores less because there are more talented players around him to pick up the slack.

That is simply not correct, though.  Both Indiana and Gonzaga have seven players that average over five points a game.  Both teams have great frontcourts and dynamic backcourts filled with slashers and shooters.  Olynyk is Gonzaga’s leader, but he is far from their only scoring option.

Doug McDermott, arguably the best scorer in college basketball, has similar adjusted numbers to Olynyk.  These numbers are slightly inflated, though.  McDermott is the only player on his team to score in double figures, and if you consider what his place would be on a team with more talent, it is easy to see how his numbers would not be as high.

Jeff Withey’s numbers are dwarfed by Olynyk’s, but I mainly included him because his incredible adjusted 5.2 blocks per game illustrates my next point; players can be valuable in a variety of different ways.

Kelly Olynyk is not simply a scorer.  There is so much that makes him a special player, and a lot of his skill set is intangible. 

As a junior in high school, Olynyk played point guard.  After a seven-inch growth spurt, Olynyk was forced to learn how to play a new position.  While it took a magical redshirt season to achieve his goal of becoming an elite frontcourt presence, his growing pains, pun intended, have left him with the skills of a guard and the body of a big man.

His ability to stretch the defense out to the perimeter opens so many doors for Gonzaga.  The Bulldogs are able to run a lot of their sets through Olynyk at the top of the key, and his presence outside of the paint opens up lanes for guards to drive in or complementary big men to post one-on-one in.

Olynyk will continue to be considered a POY candidate because of his ability to affect games in a variety of ways, and he will continue to be considered arguably the best big man in the college game because he is a highlight reel waiting to happen.

If he isn’t making a crazy layup, he is knocking down game-winning shots.  If he isn’t hitting a floating layup, he is probably throwing down an alley-oop.  He’s been known to steal the ball from opposing point guards and finish with a reverse dunk.  He is the most interesting big man in the country.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

If Gonzaga is going to make it to Atlanta, it will be because of the emergence of Kelly Olynyk as one of the nation’s best big men and most exciting players.  His hard work, passion, unique skill set and selflessness are a testament to Gonzaga’s basketball program and all that it stands for.

Long hair, don’t care.

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