Rookie seasons exist so unversed players can learn from their many mistakes and slowly, steadily get better. Similar to most who are selected in the lottery, Olynyk’s team is awful. Not just awful, though—the Celtics are content heading to the lottery.
Danny Ainge, Boston's general manager, already traded two productive players (Jordan Crawford and Courtney Lee) for more draft picks, shorter financial commitment and the hope of a brighter tomorrow. With that, Olynyk's development is given a longer view.
There’s less pressure and more patience.
Through 38 games, it's far too early to call Olynyk (or any rookie) a bust, but his play thus far has been mundane and below average. From his draft class, he’s 11th in minutes, eighth in scoring and has grabbed the sixth-most rebounds. Keep in mind, his draft class is terrible.
In his first few weeks, you’d be hard-pressed to find another NBA player more lost, especially on defense. Instead of rotating, Olynyk wandered.
To his credit, Olynyk has played a ton of center (Basketball-Reference has him there 100 percent of the time) even though he fits better at power forward, and his role is drastically different from what he was used to at Gonzaga.
Here’s a closer look at how he’s performed so far.
The most appealing thing about Olynyk is his offensive potential. He’s tall and can shoot. These two characteristics are rare, helpful and heavily sought after by NBA general managers.
Someday he'll space the floor, exploit smaller defenders in the post and score from unpredictable areas on a consistent basis. That day is not today.
Most of Olynyk’s points are of the “hustle” variety: offensive rebounds, timely cuts into space, rim runs, etc. He’s mediocre at all those things (not necessarily a bad thing when you’re 22 years old) and downright unpleasant as a spot-up shooter.
That’s problematic, because less than 50 percent of Olynyk’s points have come in the paint, and two-thirds of his made field goals have been assisted, according to NBA.com/Stats (subscription required).
Even worse is his back-to-the-basket work. He’s shooting 34.9 percent in the post, turning it over one out of every five possessions, mySynergySports (subscription required).
The comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki are galling and logical; both players are the same size and entered the league with the same general offensive skill set. Both wear No. 41 and have/had long hair!
The similarities make sense on paper and in dreams. Olynyk is shooting only 29.4 percent from behind the three-point line, but four of his 15 makes have come after popping out on a pick-and-roll.
With no reliable point guard on board pre-Rajon Rondo, Olynyk should improve here as the season goes on. It’s where he can really make defenses sweat.
His passing is already impressive, both to a fellow big in the paint and as an initiator from the high post. This skill isn’t vital in a high-usage seven-footer, but it can add several dimensions to an offense that lacks creativity.
Olynyk’s assist rate is higher than that of Jeff Green, Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger and Brandon Bass, per Basketball-Reference.com.
Look at his touch and how easy Boston (or any team, for that matter) scores when the lane is clear.
This bounce pass to Gerald Wallace is here because it's too beautiful.
Head coach Brad Stevens has recently used Olynyk more beside Bass than any other big, and since Jan. 1, lineups that feature those two have scored 105.1 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com/stats (subscription required), which is 8.9 points higher than the team’s average. Boston's offense implodes when he's paired with Jared Sullinger.
On the other end, the Celtics have held opponents to 94 points per 100 possessions in their past five games when Olynyk’s on the court. He isn’t even playing 20 minutes a night, and the sample is tiny, but that number isn't exactly bad news.
Olynyk will never be quicker than the guards who slice into the lane looking to draw contact. His path to becoming successful is paved with crisp rotations, zero hesitation and knowing where he's supposed to be at all times.
He’s averaging 6.2 personal fouls per 36 minutes. A few are suspicious, but most happen either because Olynyk was late on a back-line shift or tried to overcompensate after getting beat off the dribble.
Here’s an example of his well-intentioned self making a costly mistake.
The Celtics liked Olynyk enough to trade up for him in a bad draft. Hints of a really effective player can be seen from time to time, but they're rare. He spent the first month of his career outside his element in the worst way possible, looking too slow, too weak and not nearly explosive enough to create his own shot.
Things aren't that bad anymore, and they should get better now that Rondo's back to relieve some of the team's overall offensive tension.
Olynyk is learning and growing. He's even begun carving a role as an energetic stretch 4 who's starving for offensive rebounds. That position could very well be his fate.
Right now, the Celtics don't care. They just want him to get better.
Michael Pina has written for Bleacher Report, Red94, CelticsHub, The Classical, Sports On Earth and Boston Magazine. Follow him here.