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How Patient Should Celtics be With Kelly Olynyk?

Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire

Let’s backtrack two years and a few months.

The Boston Celtics were coming off what would end up being their final year of the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce era and, thus, had a very important decision to make during an incredibly weak draft.

What direction would the Celtics go?

There was talk about Boston potentially going with Giannis Antetokounmpo, but there were questions about whether or not Antetokounmpo was NBA ready and how long it would take for him to reach that point.

Another name floated was Dennis Schroder, but at the time, Rajon Rondo was still a member of the C’s, so going with another point guard seemed like a senseless exercise.

You know the rest of the story.

The Celtics bypassed The Greek Freak and Schroder and traded up to No. 13 to select Kelly Olynyk, considered to be one of the more polished players in the draft and one of the rookies who would likely contribute right off the bat.

Well, here we are in Nov. 2015, and early returns are that Danny Ainge and Co. may have made the wrong choice.

While Antetokounmpo is finding his way into highlight reels night in and night out, Olynyk is still finding his way, period.

The seven-footer is now in his third season, and while hes’ shown some signs of progression, he remains relatively far away from truly becoming an impact player.

The book on Olynyk is that he can spread the floor, handle the ball and make good passes, but he also struggles defensively and isn’t exactly Dennis Rodman on the glass.

All of those things have rung true so far.

The Gonzaga product has displayed the ability to hit the three-ball and is clearly a cerebral player. While his decision-making skills could still use some work, he has a solid feel for the game and has very good court vision for a big man.

The question is, at what point does Boston get tired of waiting for Olynyk to finally break through?

Let’s compare and contrast him with Jared Sullinger, whom the C’s drafted a year before the Canadian.

It’s clear as day that Sullinger is pretty far ahead of Olynyk in terms of the learning curve. He understands what he needs to do to be effective on the floor and knows how to use his body to create space and get positioning. He also knows when to be aggressive and when to defer.

His shoddy conditioning aside, Sullinger “gets it.”

Olynyk, on the other hand, is still developing.

While he has gotten more assertive, he still leaves much to be desired in that area. Sometimes, he looks like he simply doesn’ know what to do when the rock is in his hands, treating it like a hot potato in certain situations and acting like a deer in headlights with it in others.

There’s no doubting Olynyk’s raw talent (nor his ability to down burritos in four bites), but he’s in his third year and has still been unable to grasp it.

But this is what makes Olynyk such a conundrum: while his individual numbers may not reflect it and while he may look completely uncoordinated sometimes, the Celtics have actually played better this season when Olynyk is on the floor.

They’re slightly better offensively, posting 100.8 points per 100 possessions as opposed to 98.1 when he’s on the bench, per NBA.com. But here’s the real kicker: they’re 18.1 points per 100 possessions better defensively when Olynyk is playing.


While the defensive numbers will obviously regress to the mean, there’d a precedent here.

Last season, Boston was 3.2 points better on that end of the floor with Olynyk. It was also superior offensively at plus-4.7.

Now, plus-minus numbers should never be used as be-all, end-all statistics and can sometimes be used in the incorrect context, but they also shouldn’t be discarded as completely worthless.

What these numbers demonstrate are that while Olynyk may not light up the box score or do anything that makes you say “wow,” his teammates seem to benefit from his presence.

So, what’s the deal here?

Well, for starters, we don’t need statistics to know that Olynyk isn’t a good interior defender. He has a short wingspan, limited athleticism and lacks elite-level strength, so opponents can absolutely score on him in the paint. However, on the other side of the coin, he’s rarely out of position and doesn’t make too many egregious mistakes on the defensive end, so those things mitigate his physical limitations.

Offensively, he might lack aggressiveness, but he also doesn’t take bad shots.

As you can see, Olynyk is kind of a double-edged sword.

I liken Olynyk to a pitcher who consistently has good peripheral numbers but an undesirable ERA. Think Ricky Nolasco. At some point, you hope that those peripherals manifest themselves into actual results, but in Nolasco’s case, they never really did.

Is this going to be the case with Olynyk, too?

And that’s the pickle. The C’s can sit around waiting for Olynyk to put everything together and start regularly producing as an individual, or they can cut the cord early and make him widely available in trades.

That’s not to say that the Celtics should merely trade Olynyk for a bag of new basketballs and some fresh green paint, but if Boston is in trade talks and a team asks for one of the Celtics’ young players, Olynyk should be one of the first names Ainge brings into the conversation.

It’s hard not to like Olynyk. He’s a good kid, a hard worker and does everything the coaches ask of him. He’s also definitely talented, but the lack of consistency and the inability to truly separate himself from the pack makes him expendable.

Of course, Olynyk could prove me wrong entirely this season, but the fact that he’s shooting 41.8 percent overall and 29.2 percent from long range doesn’t add any credence to that notion.

Here’s to hoping Kelly gets it together. If not, he may be wearing a different uniform sooner than many of us may have expected.

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