Change is something Celtics fans are being forced to accept this offseason. The chances are good that will continue into the 2013-14 regular season as the idea of winning championships is forced out in favor of developing youth.
Over the weekend, we looked at just what the Celtics can expect out of their top rookie this coming year. The answer that was settled on was murky, but judging from past performance, summer league play and reading between president of basketball operations Danny Ainge’s lines, it is fair to expect solid play with some flashes of brilliance from Olynyk.
That isn’t what you ideally want from a starting center, but little about the upcoming season for Boston is ideal.
Options behind Olynyk currently are rather lackluster. Kris Humphries was a career backup before a couple putrid New Jersey Nets teams needed him to start. He reverted back to a second- and third-string player last season.
If fellow rookie Vitor Faverani were a starting-caliber big, he would have made the NBA four years ago after declaring for the 2009 draft. Even Boston thought Lester Hudson was a better option at the time.
Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger are already undersized and playing the power forward position. Unless the team makes a move to re-sign Chris Wilcox, another career backup, there really are no other center options.
Danny Ainge on Kelly Olynyk: "We think Kelly is more of a power forward but can play some center as his body matures."— Boston Celtics (@celtics) July 1, 2013
Common opinion is that Ainge and the Celtics will be looking to make moves to clear the frontcourt a bit. That two-month hold placed on the players received from Brooklyn will be lifted on Sept. 12. At that point, Ainge will undoubtedly be looking to deal at least Humphries and Gerald Wallace.
One of the targets in those possible trade scenarios could be a legitimate starting center. There are a few bigs regularly thought to be available. The Cleveland Cavaliers are hoping Andrew Bynum can make Anderson Varejao (6’10”, 230 pounds) available.
The Phoenix Suns aren’t going anywhere right away, and Marcin Gortat (6’11”, 240 pounds) is on an expiring contract. Of course, the favorite is Omer Asik (7’0", 255 pounds), as the Houston Rockets have presumably replaced him in their starting lineup with Dwight Howard.
However, Rockets GM Daryl Morey has stated that he wants Asik and Howard to co-exist. The incumbent big man has a lot of fans in Houston’s front office and locker room. The chances of Boston getting him easily are slimming quickly.
Phoenix, in a way, owes it to both their fans and point guards to keep Gortat for now. He could fetch a more attractive price tag around midseason. In the meantime, the Polish big gives the Suns a respectable frontcourt and can help Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Kendall Marshall develop.
The reasons for Cleveland to hold Varejao off the market are most obvious of all. Bynum couldn’t get on the floor last season and has managed to play more than 80 percent of a season just twice in eight years. The 30-year-old Varejao will be leading a frontcourt that, without him, has an average age of 23.
As much as Boston would love to flip some assets and a big contract for a starting center, it may not be possible until midseason.
Center is a position on NBA life support at this stage. Due to the dearth of prototypical centers, the position was removed from All-Star balloting.
At the combine, Olynyk sized up at an even 7’0", tipping the scales at 234 pounds. Because his offensive game can best be described as finesse, those measurements are embellished to create the picture of a smaller, scrawnier frame. The numbers prove the contrary, though. Olynyk has the body necessary to play center in this league.
In the Atlantic Division, against the teams Boston will be facing most often, Olynyk will take on Jonas Valanciunas of the Toronto Raptors. Valanciunas measures out at 6’11” and around 230 pounds. The New York Knicks’ always scary Tyson Chandler is 7’1” and a mere 235 pounds. Spencer Hawes of the Philadelphia 76ers is a tad heftier at 7’0" and 245 pounds, but he's not a particularly skilled big.
Olynyk has comparable size to a large portion of NBA bigs. He won’t be a banging defensive presence nor a crafty rim-protector. However, in a scheme, there is little reason as to why his body and footwork can’t help him develop into a passable center.
Throwing a rookie like Olynyk to the starting wolves at this level can cause serious trepidation. However, it is for the best.
Valanciunas started 57 games as a rookie and now looks poised for a breakout year. Roy Hibbert started 42 times, Lopez 75 times and Marc Gasol, as a second-round throwaway pick, started 75 games as first-year players.
In all cases, seeing some starting minutes as a rookie was beneficial to their careers.
At Gonzaga, Olynyk was listed as a forward. However, next to him was most often the 6’8” Elias Harris. In name only was Olynyk a forward. He played the college version of a center.
Considering that new Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has spent his career as a college coach, he should feel comfortable with Olynyk’s perimeter game. Matt Howard, Stevens’ most known center at Butler, attempted 133 three-pointers as a senior, hitting 39.8 percent.
How many games will Kelly Olynyk start as a rookie?
Ainge had to pull some strings to land Olynyk. He views him as a part of this team’s future as much as Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green and perhaps even Stevens. If the future is to be bright, Olynyk has to start learning with those other building blocks full-time.
It can still be successfully argued that to win a seven-game playoff series, one must have some major interior help. However, that isn’t what Boston’s mind should be on right now. This team has to worry about developing young players, not winning a championship.
If Boston wants to sell its rebuilding youth movement, what better way than starting a frontcourt of your past two first-round picks (apologies to Fab Melo)? Jared Sullinger has earned that spot by working his way up a roster built to win big. However, this current iteration doesn’t have the same goals in mind.
Doc Rivers had a fairly well-developed reputation for holding back his rookies. One had to earn playing time on that roster by proving something to Rivers, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in practice. Stevens doesn’t necessarily have that level of flexibility. Of course he’ll expect hard work, but he wont be able to afford keeping his best center option on the bench.
In the end, Olynyk’s talent should win out. While that may be marginal at the NBA level, the only way it becomes legitimate is through confidence and experience. Like so many before him, Olynyk will earn starting minutes as a rookie and hopefully use that experience to build something reliable.
He has the right body. He just needs the body of work.