Most will agree that Boston Celtics rookie big man Kelly Olynyk surpassed expectations last season. After the initial pick was met with some confusion, KO went on to win the hearts of fans over the course of the season, averaging 8.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. You could even argue that Olynyk was the steal of the lottery, as he exceeded the production of most players selected ahead of him.
One of my favorite parts about evaluating the draft is being able to go back to assess where I was right or wrong about players. With Olynyk, I was accurate about a number of my statements, but I was wrong about plenty of others. Let's rewind to the summer of 2013 to find out how accurate my in-depth scouting report on Kelly Olynyk really was.
Pre-Season Scouting Report: "Kelly Olynyk has very good straight-line speed, making him a threat in transition offense ... possesses elite instincts for a big man ... intangibles a point guard has when running the floor ... knows where to be and what the best passing lane is for the ball handler, putting himself in a perfect position for a pass."
Kelly Olynyk scored a fantastic 1.22 points per possession in his 79 transition opportunities this season, according to mySynergySports, consistently displaying outstanding instincts, not just for a 7-footer, but for any NBA player. Olynyk's upbringing as a point guard has clearly helped his ability to bring his transition skills to the pros.
As Olynyk adds muscle and improves his conditioning, he will likely become even more of a threat in transition. Once that happens, it wouldn't be surprising to see him run the fastbreak more often since he possesses extraordinary passing skills for a big man.
Pre-Season Scouting Report: "Even though Olynyk stands at 7-feet tall, he is not a very good rebounder ... does a good job of boxing out but doesn't have the length to grab the ball at its apex. Even though he fights for positioning, he gets outleaped by more athletic players and outmuscled by stronger ones ... has the potential to be a ‘clutch rebounder' ... has a nose for the ball, and when crashing the boards he has the instincts to get in position for the rebound."
I completely underestimated Kelly Olynyk's rebounding instincts, though I was correct about his short wingspan hindering his ability to sky over opponents (and therefore his maximum potential). Olynyk averaged 12.5 rebounds per 48 minutes, which was seventh of all rookie players. Though this total isn't spectacular, it's a great start for a player who wasn't expected to be a star on the boards.
Olynyk rebounded 38.1 percent of contested rebound chances, which was above the league average of 35.8 percent (minimum 5 rebounds per game), according to SportVU. With that said, Olynyk certainly isn't a top rebounder, but he has sensational instincts, which put him into position for boards and plenty of second-chance opportunities. I realized that he had a nose for the ball, but I didn't think it'd translate as well as it did.
Pre-Season Scouting Report: "When Olynyk receives the ball on the wing, elbow, point, or top of the key, he is a major threat to put the ball on the floor and drive to the hole. One of the most intriguing parts of Kelly's offensive skillset is his jump shot. Olynyk had some of the best fundamentals out of any big men in the draft."
This one was easy, because not a lot of big men can handle the ball like Kelly Olynyk can. It's so rare to see a 7-footer that can "become small" with the ball, and get anywhere they want to on the court. This puts opponents at a serious disadvantage, as proven by Olynyk's success in isolation this year. Even though Olynyk had only 33 isolation possessions, he managed to have a 54.3 eFG% on 1.03 points per possession.
Even though the sample size is small, this put Olynyk in a high percentile of all NBA players. For a rookie -- who quite frankly played like a deer in the headlights at the start of the season -- this is especially remarkable.
And as a jump shooter, Kelly's early-season struggles have been hammered home already, but once he found the flow, he began to show why the Celtics believe he can be a fantastic stretch four. After the All-Star Break, Olynyk shot an outstanding 42.6 percent from three, which could carry on through next season if the team continues to find him in his spots.
Pre-Season Scouting Report: "Olynyk had some of the softest hands out of any of the bigs in the draft ... knows how to finish the play or draw a foul ... very decisive with all of his movements and goes up strong with the ball ... Olynyk is very good at fighting hard for deep post positioning ... likes to finish with his right hand but he does have the ability to put the ball on the floor with his left hand, giving him much added flexibility on the post."
Kelly Olynyk was pretty horrible on the post as a rookie, scoring only 0.642 points per possession on 34.3 shooting percentage. Olynyk's lack of speed was a serious problem, as was his strength, so he wasn't establishing ideal positioning.
Fortunately, most young bigs don't see their post skills translate to the NBA until at least their second or third season. This is why I think it's way too soon to say that Olynyk is destined to be a scorer solely on the perimeter. There is plenty of time for him to add strength and quickness, which could make him a go-to option on the post, just like he was at Gonzaga.
Pre-Season Scouting Report: "plays with a lot of energy on the post...lacks the strength to deal with stronger players and the length to defend longer, more athletic big men...smart defender on the post...rarely bites on pump fakes and he does a relatively solid job staying with his assignment...won't be a threat to block shots"
Olynyk struggled defending the post, allowing 1.08 point per possession according to mySynergySports. As I predicted, he had a hard time dealing with both stronger and longer players. Even though he was typically in pretty good positioning, he simply isn't athletically gifted enough to defend the post at a high level.
However, I do want to see how KO's defense progresses if he comes back leaner and stronger next year. His frame can support muscle, and there's no doubt he still has baby fat that needs to be lost. Perhaps, if Olynyk has a successful summer, he'll be much improved defending the paint next season.
Pre-Season Scouting Report: "struggles very much when moving laterally...bad footwork...doesn't get set with a wide base, leaving himself vulnerable to dribble penetration...hedges the pick-and-roll and lacks the foot speed to get back to his man...could get completely exposed at the beginning of his NBA career...whether or not this is a problem with the Celtics all depends on the type of defense they play...possible that Olynyk isn't put in situations where he has to hedge too often."
Olynyk was poor defending the pick-and-roll at the start of the season, but I thought he progressively got better as the year went on. This is partially due to the system the Celtics used -- "ice" -- which allowed Olynyk to sag back in the paint instead of "hedging" out past the three-point line. There was certainly an adjustment period for him, but his defense was passable by the end of the year.
But Olynyk absolutely needs to be paired with a defensive-oriented center, which the Celtics never had last year. He's still not good enough of an individual defender to be a rim protector, whether or not he's engaged in the pick-and-roll or is defending an isolation threat. Nevertheless, he was better than I thought he'd be as a rookie, though I think he still has his significant warts on that end.
Pre-Season Scouting Report: "Olynyk could easily become a player that scores a respectable 12-to-14 points per game as a sixth man but I wouldn't put him past him to be a guy that an average 17-to-19 points per game as a starter. Olynyk is an extremely versatile player on the offensive end and still has room to develop...Olynyk will probably never be a good defense player but he if continues to work hard he has the tools to become an average one."
I honestly think I hit the nail on the head in regard to Kelly Olynyk's potential. At this point, he still strikes me as a sixth man off the bench, though I'm starting to think that he could be a third option on a contending team. He brings exceptional complimentary scoring skills in the sense that he can stretch the floor, clean up offensive rebounds, and he can even put the ball on the floor.
These attributes really fit in nicely to the type of system that Brad Stevens is integrating. Not to mention that the Celtics were significantly better with him on the floor as a rookie, which bodes well for his potential going forward. Obviously the personnel could change quite a lot this summer, but Kelly Olynyk's role and production will only increase.