When your team isn't in the playoffs, you start daydreaming a little. You see players in the post season with similar skills and you think to yourself, "my guy can do that and when he does it next year, we'll be contending for a championship, too." When Ainge traded up with Dallas to grab Olynyk at #13 on draft night, it was a Maverick that reminded us of Kelly's potential: Dirk Nowitzki. They are seven footers not necessarily blessed with tons of athletic ability, but gifted with natural talent and an all-around game.
Olynyk just turned 23 two weeks ago and still has plenty of time to fulfill his potential as Dirk 2.0, but after a year of seeing him in the NBA, he might be more suited in patterning his development after another European star: Marc Gasol. At first blush, it may not be the most obvious of comparisons. Gasol was named Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 and this season, Olynyk often got lost in rotations. Gasol is a goateed bruiser. Olynyk plays with flowing locks and finesse.
However, I think Olynyk could learn a lot from Gasol's game. One of my favorite first round series this year was the seven-game war between the Thunder and Grizzlies. It pitted polar opposites against each other with OKC's scoring wings battling Celtics' alumni Tony Allen and Courtney Lee on the outside and Marc Gasol and ZBo going head-to-head against Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. The Thunder ended up pulling it out after Memphis' advantage in the paint was neutralized by Randolph's Game 7 suspension.
It was hard not to think of the budding tandem of Olynyk-Sullinger while watching Gasol and Randolph work. In the 541 minutes shared by Olynyk and Sullinger, the Celtics were on average a +5.7 in points and a +2.5 in rebounding (offensive and defensive). For the sake of comparison, Gasol and Randolph were on the floor together three times as much and finished +6.8 and +1.3 respectively.
Not to diminish what Sullinger and Randolph bring to the table, but one of the key reactive ingredients to the front court chemistry is a big man that can operate in the high post.
So, the Grizzlies utilize a very popular NBA set called Horns where the two bigs start at the top of the key to free up space near the rim. Against OKC, it's neutralized Iblocka and forced Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant to expend energy on the defensive end chasing wing players in and out of the paint. Check out our SBNation neighbors over at Grizzly Bear Blues with a more in-depth look at how Horns generates offense for Memphis.
Let's check out Kelly Olynyk passing from similar areas on the floor. Ironically, Olynyk's most prolific assist game came against Marc's older brother, Pau. He racked up seven assists that night with four coming from the high post and perimeter:
And now we all miss Gerald Wallace, right? He's not Rondo, but Olynyk has an adept touch. He can throw the feathery lob over a fronting defender or a bullet bounce pass to a back door cutter. I guess once a point guard, always a point guard. This could be Olynyk's next evolution in Stevens' offense. Olynyk's not great at one thing, but he's pretty skilled in everything.
Olynyk shot 21/49 from above the free throw line this season (Gasol hit 49 out of 144 for a 34% clip). It's a small sample size and not exactly Brandon Bass-esque, but an above average percentage for a big man. What's more important is Olynyk's late season confidence in driving to the cup. Earlier in the year, he seemed timid to venture in the paint, but in the final three games of the year, he posted 25, 28, and 24 points thanks in large part to an aggressiveness to drive. Even though Gasol is not much of a penetrator, the more versatile Kelly's game gets, the more of a triple threat he becomes. Enjoy the beautiful awkwardness:
Heading into the summer, Brad Stevens' challenged his players and asked, "are you going to get better in your role, or are you going to expand your role? What I mean by that is: are you going to get better at what you do well, or are you going to get better at some other things that make you, that give you the chance to instead of be the eighth guy be the fifth guy, instead of be the fifth guy be the third guy." By the end of the season, Olynyk had moved from second big off the bench to starting 5. That was mainly due to injuries to Sullinger and Humphries, but Kelly flourished with more minutes. There are a number of paths that Ainge could take in reshaping the roster and it's easy to overlook Olynyk. He had a rocky rookie November that got furthered derailed by an ankle sprain, got back on track in the winter, and heated up in the spring.
I'd love for Olynyk to come back a little leaner next season, but his off-season workouts should focus on getting him a little meaner, too. It took KO eighty-two games to get used to the speed and strength of the NBA, but you could tell that as soon as he felt comfortable, his confidence skyrocketed. The secondary pass is great and he's absolutely capable of getting a good look for a teammate, but he needs to carry over the success he found in those final three games of 2014 into next year. He won't be averaging 19 shots a game, but if he aggressively looks for his offense, defenses will take him more seriously and that'll open up the rest of the floor.