Checklist for Kelly Olynyk to Thrive with Boston Celtics

Grant Rindner@grantrindnerContributor IIIJune 29, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MARCH 23:  Kelly Olynyk #13 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs moves the ball in the first half while taking on the Wichita State Shockers during the third round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at EnergySolutions Arena on March 23, 2013 in Salt Lake City, Utah.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Lost in the shuffle of the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce-to-Brooklyn trade that was agreed to during the draft is the fact that the Boston Celtics were able to move up into the late lottery and select Gonzaga big man Kelly Olynyk 13th overall.

While Olynyk's presence is not going to make up for the departures of Pierce and KG, he does fill an area of need down low, and if he can mesh with Boston's current players and make an instant impact he could expedite the rebuilding process the Celtics are entering into.

After struggling to carve out a spot in the Bulldogs' rotation, Kelly Olynyk redshirted for the 2011-12 season, taking the time to work on his body and his game. The redshirt year served him tremendously well, as Olynyk emerged a completely different player than he was in his first two seasons in Spokane.

As a sophomore, Olynyk averaged just 5.8 points and 3.8 rebounds on 57.4 percent shooting in 13.5 minutes per game, but during the 2012-13 campaign those numbers skyrocketed to 17.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists on 62.9 percent shooting in 26.4 minutes of work per night. 

He also won the West Coast Conference Player of the Year award, was a First Team All-American while leading the Zags to their first ever No. 1 ranking in a national poll.

Though it is tough right now to assess what kind of team the Celtics will be in the 2013-14 season with so much uncertainty, what we can discuss right now is what Olynyk should do in order to make his transition from the Bulldogs to the Celtics as seamless and successful as possible.

Continue to Expand His Jumper Range 

One of the more polished big men in the 2013 draft class, Olynyk thrived as a pick-and-pop big man under Mark Few, stepping outside and knocking down shots at a high clip.

Given his lack of strength (which we'll discuss later), it is important that Olynyk continue to improve his outside shot, which he had trouble extending to three-point range last season. Though great from midrange, he made just 30 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.

Playing with guards like Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley, it is essential to have floor spacing big men and, if Olynyk is able to do one thing like Kevin Garnett, it should be stepping outside and stretching out a defense. Because Rondo and Bradley are not shooters, it is imperative that the bigs can draw opposing front court players out to the perimeter and open up space for driving lanes.

The mid-range game is something that a defense will usually leave open for a young player until they consistently prove they can make it in the league, and Olynyk will need to establish himself as a guaranteed threat from outside early on. 

Though he scored well with his back to the basket in college, Olynyk will have a harder time getting post-ups in the NBA and since he is not particularly athletic, running the pick-and-roll at the professional level might prove somewhat difficult.

If Olynyk can shoot even around 34-38 percent from three-point range in the league it will be a huge asset for Boston who, with Jeff Green, Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger all already capable of knocking down outside shots, will possess a very unique and unconventional group of big men.

Olynyk is already one of the best shooting big men in his draft class, but for him to make an instant impact in Boston he will need to continue to improve as a jump shooter. 

Add Strength and Muscle to His Frame 

While not as skinny as the 228-pound Nerlens Noel, Olynyk is a relatively slight seven-footer, weighing in at 234 pounds. The difference, of course, is that Noel is only 19 years old while Olynyk is 22 years old and spent four years in college.

Olynyk has excellent footwork and timing in the post, but unless he has the strength to back opponents down that will not mean much. The center position is not nearly as important as it once was in the NBA, but it is still filled with players who are much stronger than Olynyk's usual competition in the WCC.

The same goes for defending the post, an area Olynyk was decent, but not exceptional at in college. Though he did a good job against Brigham Young's Brandon Davies in their two meetings, he had trouble against Baylor's Isaiah Austin, a legitimate NBA prospect who scored 20 points in Gonzaga's seven-point win.

Even on the glass, Olynyk is going to have a hard time making an impact if he cannot bully guys inside and use his frame to carve out adequate space. While Olynyk did spend a good amount of time playing on the perimeter at Gonzaga, 7.3 rebounds is not exactly a ton for a skilled seven-footer in a non-major conference.

Obviously strength is not everything, there are plenty of big stiffs in the NBA who can attest to that, but for a player like Olynyk who already has a polished skill set it could be the difference between him being a 10-man rotation player and him being a starter down the road.

He's never going to be a true banger in the paint like Sullinger is, but if he wants to log legitimate minutes as a center in the NBA he is going to have to find a way to add some more muscle to his frame.

Develop a Mean Streak

On the surface, Olynyk is far from an intimidating player. He's a well-spoken college graduate with an accounting degree who earned his living in the finesse aspects of basketball, not exactly a Kendrick Perkins-style enforcer in the middle.

However, with Garnett headed to Brooklyn and the future of the center position extremely uncertain for Boston, it is imperative that Olynyk becomes a more gritty and aggressive player than he was at Gonzaga. 

Whether that means doling out some hard fouls defensively or using his elbows to clear out space in the post, Boston needs Olynyk to consistently play angry in order to force opponents to game-plan for him, instead of assuming he will be a physical non-factor. 

Oynyk averaged 1.1 blocks per game in the 2012-13 campaign, but that was more the product of his length and height than any true shot-blocking ability. If Olynyk wants to be a true pro for a long time he is going to have to be aggressive on the court and force the issue instead of just trying to blend into the background and be a rotating piece.

Though he will not have the benefit of learning under Garnett or Rivers, Olynyk does have the benefit of playing with a slew of guys who were influenced by KG and who can teach him the value of playing with a mean streak. 

People like Avery Bradley, Brandon Bass and Jeff Green were not exactly known as aggressive, confrontational players, but all three of them developed that proverbial chip-on-the-shoulder from spending so much time with Garnett. 

Olynyk is not necessarily going to get more athletic during his time in the league, but he can get more physical on both ends of the floor. 

For the first time in six years Boston doesn't have an intimidator inside, and while Olynyk will not be able to make up for that entirely, he needs to play more aggressively and physically than he did at Gonzaga.

Play in the Pick-and-Roll on Both Ends

At Gonzaga, Olynyk did not run all that much pick-and-roll action. Though he is a good screen setter he primarily popped out to the perimeter for jump shots and didn't roll to the rim looking to score in the paint. 

Olynyk has phenomenal hands for a big man and is actually a very skilled finisher inside, but because of his lack of athleticism and explosiveness he had some trouble making the catch and attacking the rim. While Garnett is not a traditional pick-and-roll big man, he used the threat of his jump shot to make defenses hesitate and then attacked the rim, much the way Olynyk should. 

The Celtics under Rivers didn't run as much pick-and-roll as a lot of NBA teams, but they still relied on the play a reasonable amount and should continue to do so under their next coach. Rajon Rondo is great at setting up the play thanks to his penetration ability, but he needs more big men who are willing to roll to the rim.

Defensively, Olynyk does not possess great lateral quickness, which will be exposed far more in the NBA than it was in the WCC. Players will be able to blow past him out of pick-and-roll sets unless he learns to stay lighter on his feet and do a better job of anticipating where his man is going. 

That lack of foot speed also hurts him when he hedges on screens, as he goes too far out to the guard or wing player and has trouble recovering to his own man in time. Unfortunately, switching with Olynyk is a difficult proposition because there are very few, if any, guards in the league he will be able to keep in front of him off the dribble. 

Olynyk was not brought to Boston to be a defensive stopper or an anchor in the paint, but if he wants to play regular minutes and potentially earn starting looks he is going to have to improve how he plays the pick-and-roll both offensively and defensively.


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