For the first time in seven years, the Boston Celtics do not harbor championship aspirations. Consequently, Thursday night's draft is already the most important date in the Celtics' 2013-14 season, with perhaps the exception of Rajon Rondo's return from his torn ACL.
And per Marc Stein of ESPN, the Celtics will begin their new era by trading for Kelly Olynyk, who the Dallas Mavericks drafted 13th overall:
With Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce close to heading to Brooklyn, according to Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated, Olynyk may get a chance to step in right away for Garnett in the frontcourt. Given the Celtics' dearth of NBA-caliber big men, the 22-year-old from Gonzaga will likely get a chance to play right away.
Though Olynyk is considered NBA-ready, the Celtics are all about their long-term picture right now. With that in mind, here's what to expect from Olynyk's tenure in Boston.
Whoever ends up coaching the Celtics next season will be able to plug Olynyk in right away. Offensively, the seven-footer possesses one of the most polished offensive games of any big man in the draft, and it is on that end where he will likely make his greatest contribution.
Perhaps Olynyk's greatest offensive strength is his mobility and ball-handling, both qualities necessary when he played guard in high school. However, a growth spurt moved Olynyk to center, giving him a significant advantage over most seven-footers. As noted by DraftExpress.com, Olynyk's complete offensive repertoire keyed his 2012 breakout season in Spokane:
Olynyk has matched his physical development with a dramatically different approach on the offensive end. Content to spot-up away from the rim and fire jump shots from the perimeter early in his career, the big man has embraced his role as post-scorer and finisher this season, doing a significant better job utilizing his size to his advantage in the paint.
What makes Olynyk unique is his versatility and skill level for a 7-footer. By no means a flashy scorer and far from a freak athlete, the inside-outside threat can use his size and soft touch to score in the post, finish his opportunities at the rim, and step out and make shots from the perimeter.
The Celtics have had elite mid-range shooters in Garnett and Brandon Bass the past few seasons, creating an inside-out offense with spacing provided by the forwards rather than the guards. Though he shot 25-75 from beyond the arc at Gonzaga, Olynyk can finally provide Boston with a reliable post game, as he had the second-best adjusted two-point percentage in the country.
That kind of efficiency will be a huge boon to a Celtics offense that ranked 22nd in offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) last season. Of course, that only covers one side of the floor.
If Olynyk is going to stick long-term, he will have to improve his defensive awareness, particularly on the pick-and-roll. Check out the 11:56 mark of his DraftExpress scouting video:
As mobile as Olynyk is, he doesn't appear to move very well laterally, and his uncertainty often leaves him stuck in no-man's land. For a Celtics team that generally asks its big men to hedge hard on opponents' pick-and-rolls, Olynyk will need lots of polishing to master the timing that KG demonstrated so consistently.
Moreover, his limited athleticism hinders his rebounding, as he was one of the worst in rebounding per-40 minute numbers among top-100 centers. Olynyk never garnered a reputation as a rim-protector, largely due to his below-average 6'9" wingspan. Though the center has beefed up in hopes of allowing his body to hold up better in the NBA, it's hard to imagine him replacing Garnett's vicious intimidation factor in the paint.
Last year, the Celtics were dead last in rebounding efficiency, perhaps their most glaring deficiency. Part of Olynyk's rebounding problems were technical, like not knowing where to go or not finding his man to box out. However, it's a little concerning that he probably will not be a plus in this category, so Boston will have to look elsewhere to address their greatest weakness.
Olynyk probably already has the most complete offensive game among Celtics big men, assuming Garnett does indeed get traded. He will make a fine pick-and-roll partner for Rondo. But unless Olynyk proves he can hold his own defensively against more bruising and athletic forwards, his defensive liabilities may outweigh his offensive assets.
Olynyk certainly fills a glaring positional need for Boston, as no Celtics fan wants to see Danny Ainge dipping back into his Chinese Basketball Association pipeline again. He will get plenty of court time to play through the inevitable rookie mistakes, though it would certainly benefit him if KG were around for at least the first half of the season.
The seasoning will be invaluable to helping Olynyk learn the basics of NBA defense. If he can at least demonstrate strong fundamentals and awareness, that will likely offset his natural deficiencies enough to make his offensive versatility worth something.
If all goes well, Olynyk could be a Mehmet Okur-type of stretch center who could start on a championship-level team. Of course, if Olynyk can only manage to contribute on one end, his impact could be much like former Celtic Al Jefferson—a unique offensive talent whose irrevocable defensive flaws submarine his overall value.