Boston Celtics Can Bank on Summer League Star Kelly Olynyk as the Real Deal

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Boston Celtics Can Bank on Summer League Star Kelly Olynyk as the Real Deal
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Kelly Olynyk was only a Boston Celtic for a few hours before he became an afterthought.

Instead, the Boston faithful were struggling on draft day to process the blockbuster trade that sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets—meaning that few were thinking about what the team got out of its 2013 first-round pick.

Though Olynyk had a stellar final season at Gonzaga, drafting a jump-shooting big man late in the lottery was not exactly something fans were excited over as the core of their 2008 championship team was being disassembled and the future of the franchise placed in question.

However, all Olynyk needed to completely change his perception around the NBA were five games in the Orlando Summer League.

With Celtic fans everywhere needing something to feel optimistic about, Olynyk stepped up and turned in some sensational performances in the summer league, averaging 18 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.8 steals while shooting 57.8 percent from the floor in just 24.2 minutes of work per night.

The combination of his crafty post game, outside shooting touch and underrated ball-handling skills made him one of the breakout players of summer league, and he looked absolutely dominant at times.

Boston may not be a factor in the Eastern Conference for the first time after six years of playoff-contender status, but they do have an intriguing young core and a rookie in Olynyk whose game should translate quite smoothly to the regular season.

At the very least, Olynyk will find a role as a 7-footer with an outside shot. He connected on just 23.1 percent of his three-pointers in summer league, proving that he is still a work in progress from deep, but Olynyk is borderline automatic from 18 feet out and should be a pick-and-pop threat for the next decade-plus.

With the direction in which the league is moving, having a big man capable of stretching the floor is essential, and playing Olynyk alongside Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley should open up more driving lanes for the two slashing guards.

Olynyk scored 25 points in his Orlando Summer League debut against the Magic.

Beyond just his shooting ability, Olynyk's other offensive skills should be even greater assets once he is playing with true NBA talent.

Olynyk has shown a knack for carving out position down low, but did not have any quality passers to play with in Orlando except for Phil Pressey.  Any starting guard in the league—let alone a pure facilitator like Rondo—will be able to consistently find Olynyk in his best spots on the block to maximize his effectiveness.

Though he is not an overpowering physical presence, Olynyk has excellent timing and footwork in addition to a bevy of moves to get his defender off-balance or in the air. He has demonstrated the ability to draw fouls in the paint and convert at a solid clip from the charity stripe.

Because of his ability to fade and shoot turnaround jumpers he is a threat in both the high and low posts.

Today’s NBA is lacking in elite post defenders, meaning that there are not many players who are disciplined enough defensively to guard someone with the kind of back-to-the-basket game Olynyk possesses. 

Additionally, having better floor spacing when the real games start will provide Olynyk with more room on the court than he had in the Orlando Summer League, where he was the Celtics’ first option offensively and defenses were especially focused on stopping him.

Playing alongside Rondo, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger, Olynyk will not be facing many double teams and will have plenty of room to work one-on-one against his man.

A guard for much of his high school basketball career before a growth spurt turned him into a frontcourt player, Olynyk has far better handling and passing instincts than most big men in the NBA. In summer league there were several instances of him dribbling the ball the length of the floor on a fast break or using his court vision to find a teammate slashing to the basket.

He is also capable of putting the ball on the deck when a defender is running at him to contest a shot. With his shooting touch and ability to pump fake, opponents will be forced to stick close to him, and if he can get his defender in the air he will be able to drive to the hoop and score or draw a foul. 

While he won’t be playing a lot of point center in the NBA, Olynyk’s ability to find teammates is a tremendous skill, particularly on a team full of players like Bradley and Green who can move without the basketball.

Because of his ball-handling talents, Olynyk can make passes few other bigs can make, and in the NBA he will be surrounded by much better finishers than he played with at Gonzaga or in the summer league.

Bass, Sullinger and Kris Humphries are far from elite players, but they all have much better hands than Fab Melo, who mishandled Olynyk’s dishes several times when the two played together. 

Though not a superb athlete or above-the-rim finisher, Olynyk did a better job running the floor than many fans anticipated. Playing on a young Boston club will give him plenty of opportunities to get out in the open court and have easy scoring chances.

He is not going to produce many Blake Griffin-style highlights, but Olynyk is capable of finishing at the rim and using his length to counteract his lack of explosiveness.

Olynyk scored 21 points and grabbed nine boards against the Indiana Pacers.

Beyond just his abilities on the floor, Olynyk has demonstrated that he has the disposition and work ethic necessary to succeed in the league. His decision to redshirt in the 2011-12 season has been discussed often, but it was truly an unprecedented move for any college player, let alone one at an elite program.

Most players in Olynyk’s position would have either sought a transfer or just accepted their diminished role, but Olynyk spent a year working on his body and honing his game so he could become an impact player for the Bulldogs.

That mix of maturity, self-awareness and determination is going to be essential for Olynyk in the NBA since there are still aspects of his game that require plenty of work in the foreseeable future.

Though Olynyk was a factor on the offensive glass in Orlando and created easy putback opportunities, he never grabbed more than six defensive rebounds in a contest.

As a 7-footer with a 6’10” wingspan, Olynyk needs to be more assertive on the boards. Though he will likely be sharing the floor with a dominant rebounder in Sullinger, it will be difficult to play an unathletic big man for 30-plus minutes per night if he is a consistently subpar rebounder.

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Olynyk looked decent defensively in the post against the Orlando Magic’s Andrew Nicholson, a legitimate NBA big, but he still needs to work on guarding the pick-and-roll and not hedging too hard on the ball-handler. For as much of an offensive matchup problem as he presents, Olynyk stands to be a defensive liability and needs to improve at defending against one of the league’s most common plays if he wants to earn heavy minutes as a rookie.

Still, even with these deficiencies, there is a lot more to Olynyk's game to commend than criticize. 7-footers with his offensive versatility are hard to come by, and he proved that he is far more than just a stretch-5 with his play in Orlando.

Of all of the frontcourt players on the Celtic roster, Olynyk might be the most skilled already. And at 22-years-old, he still has room to grow and develop his game. 

Though he may never be an All-Star, Kelly Olynyk is the kind of sure thing player Boston needed to get out of the 2013 draft given the uncertain future the franchise now faces without their veteran leaders.

He is not going to win any rebounding titles or earn Defensive Player of the Year, but Celtics fan can rest assured that Olynyk is indeed the real deal.

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com. 

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