Kelly Olynyk is a player not many college basketball fans knew about coming into last season. As a perimeter oriented seven footer for most of his college career, he went under the radar at Gonzaga. He put a ton of work in before the season to become a better post player for the Zags and his hard work paid off, leading to an eventual #1 seed in the tournament and national recognition of his talent. During this year’s NBA Draft, Olynyk was selected by the Mavericks at 13th overall and was traded on draft night to a team that was in real need of young talent, the Boston Celtics. With Olynyk’s well rounded offensive game and some work on the defensive end, he has the chance to be a very good building block for the most decorated franchise in league history.
With the off-season trade of their veterans Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry, the Celtics will undoubtedly be looking for younger players like Olynyk to step up. Pairing him up with another young, talented big man in Jared Sullinger will be a good one two punch for them in the post. With Sullinger’s bulk and Olynyk’s legitimate seven foot height, it could be a formidable duo in Boston, something they have seen plenty of in their history. It’s Olynyk’s seemingly unlimited offensive potential that should have Celtics fans very excited about his future. The year he spent as a red-shirt at Gonzaga helped him greatly in rounding out his game on this end. While he had the touch on his mid-range and out-side jumper, his post game was simply not up to par. However, he worked his tail off and became a dominating force on the inside last season. Averaging nearly 18 points per game, he showed a vast array of post moves; up and unders, hooks, a drop step, and a great turnaround. There are times where his lack of athleticism has led to his shot getting blocked by better athletes, but with his many moves he can keep opposing players guessing. Even though he really shines in the post, he has shown that he has not lost the ability to play on the perimeter as well. In the Orlando Summer League, he hit his fair share of threes and was efficient with them as well. Not only does he have the shooting ability on the perimeter, but he can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim against essentially any defender. Summer league stats count for nothing when the regular season starts, but it shows that he is ready for professional basketball and to take the league on immediately.
It’s not quite the same story on the defensive end however. His natural body build hinders his lateral and overall quickness, meaning that he has a hard time keeping players in front of him. He is not a shot blocker either, even with his seven foot frame. His lack of elite athleticism means that he doesn’t having the leaping ability to be that intimidating force in the defensive facet of the game. With Jared Sullinger’s lack of height, it means that the defensive front court could face some big problems during their first year together. Even with these legitimate question marks on the defensive end of the floor for Olynyk, he has shown the work ethic to get better at a deficiency in his game. If he puts the same type of effort into improving his defensive game that he did in his post play, he will eventually be a very good defender. While this improvement can only really come in game situations, there are plenty of things he could work on in the gym to get his defensive game up to par with his gifted scoring touch.
All of this may all seem like hyperbole from a Kelly Olynyk super fan or something, but he has proven in his playing time in college and at the Summer League that he is ready to bring his game over into the professional ranks. His great work ethic will help him improve any holes that Brad Stevens and the coaching staff may see in him, mainly defensively, and his post moves could remind some of Kevin McHale’s repertoire. With the playing time he will most likely see due to the franchise rebuilding for the future, do not be surprised if Olynyk is in the conversation for the Rookie of the Year this season.