Sullinger or Olynyk?

Jared Wickerham

This post is a simple question I pose to my fellow Celtics fans about which young power forward they prefer. While I love both Sullinger and Olynyk, I just don't see how they can both be a part of the Celtics future. As much as I would love to play Sullinger at the 4 and Olynyk at the 5, that just doesn't seem feasible over the course of an entire season (unless it's an unsuccessful one). Therefore, I think a big decision the Celtics will have to make moving forward is which young PF we are going to roll with. I am wondering what you guys think, and I will give my opinion as well:

While Sullinger is the better player right now, I do not think it is by very much. He is a better rebounder and a slightly better defender (hard not to be), and his post game is better than Olynyk's. He is also younger than Olynyk. On the other hand, Olynyk is a far superior shooter. Olynyk also possesses a better handle and he is a better floor running big. Now that we have their strengths out of the way, I'm going to discuss how their seasons went. Sullinger started off really strong, and I honestly thought he was going to compete for MIP early on in the season. However, due to some injuries and him falling in love with his 3 pointer, he efficiency fell off of a cliff the latter half of the season. Also, when Sullinger was matched up against long athletic centers or power forwards, he really struggled to do anything in the post. If he isn't able to do anything in the post, he becomes far less effective and starts to settle for jump shots which really kills his advanced statistics. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Kelly Olynyk started the year off pretty bad. He struggled to gain confidence early on, and the shots that dropped for him in college and the summer league just couldn't seem to go in. He had a few break out games, but it wasn't really until right before the all-star break when he was invited to play in the Rising Stars Challenge that he really started to break out. After the All-Star break, Olynyk found his shot, and he was lethal from all over the floor. His post AS break stats were 12-6 on 53-44-83 (something like that) shooting splits. He also posted a PER above 19 after the AS break. Then, as we all know, when Olynyk was finally given the playing time we hoped he would get all season, he DOMINATED the last 3 games. He averaged 26, 9.3, and 3.7 assists while shooting 53.4-40-85. While it is a tremendously small sample size, Olynyk was typically better throughout the season when he played extended minutes and his advanced stats say that he was a net positive on a bad team. So in summary, Sullinger hit a bit of a Sophomore wall while Olynyk really improved throughout the season. However, it is unfair to assume the same won't happen to Olynyk next year when teams actually have him in their scouting report.

The next thing I'm going to talk about is fit. For me Olynyk really shines in this category. Olynyk is extremely fast from end to end (although he is dreadfully slow from side to side), and he is also slowly becoming quite the lethal shooter. He also plays with an infectious energy/attitude. He is also a better passer who can help take some pressure off of Rondo in my opinion although Sullinger is definitely a good passer himself. Also, Olynyk is a legitimate 7 footer. I know his short wingspan makes it impossible for him to be a long term option at the 5, but having a legitimate floor stretching 4 that can dribble, pass, and run the floor is almost unheard of. While Sullinger's post game was far superior to Olynyk's, I think a summer's worth of lifting the weights could do wonders for Olynyk's post game. He actually has a great arsenal of moves, he just gets knocked off of his position a lot of times because he isn't strong enough to bang down low with NBA 4s. If he comes back stronger next year, who is to say that he won't develop a nice little post game. Regardless, Sullinger's post game becomes moot when he goes up against longer more athletic defenders. Olynyk's game isn't really dependent on who is guarding him since he scores off of the pick and pop, off the dribble, in transition, and in the post. Therefore, I just think Olynyk is the much better fit if we really intend on building around Rondo. We also have to think about when the time comes that we do get a rim protecting big man. 9/10 rim protecting big men operate in the low post. When we get our next big man (rim protector or not), whether it is Asik, Monroe, Larry Sanders, Joel Embiid (I wish), or whoever it may be. Most of those guys get their offense primarily in the post which is exactly where Sullinger is most effective. Having a guy like Olynyk who doesn't need to play in the post to be effective allows us to go after those kinds of centers without hesitation.

The last thing I am going to talk about is upside. You could argue that neither of these players have much upside due to their lack of athleticism, but I disagree. Both of their basketball IQ's are high enough to let them find ways to improve in spite of their limitations. For instance, I don't think Olynyk will continue to be as bad of a defender as he was this year. Once the refs stop blowing those rookie whistles and he has an offseason to work with Brad Stevens to really understand our defensive concepts, I think he can be passable. It will also help when we put a rim protector behind him to compensate for his lack of length/explosiveness. Also, on Sullinger's end, I think losing 10-15 pounds and really developing his jump shot could take his game to a whole new level. His shooting started to come around at the end of the season, but I still think he is a long way off to being a consistent 3 point shooting threat. He also needs to be able to get up the floor faster due to some better conditioning. Sullinger in better shape with a 3 ball is that poor man's Kevin Love that everyone is dying for him to be. Either way, I don't see either of these guys having a definite advantage in upside. Sullinger is younger, but Olynyk has had less time in the NBA getting used to NBA quality competition.

That pretty much sums up what I think about both of those guys. While I am high on both, there are 2 reasons I think it would be wise to move forward with Olynyk over Sullinger:

One: I think Sullinger's trade value around the league would be higher since his counting stats are better, he's younger, and he's already a solid double double guy (per 36) if he gets the minutes

Two: I think Olynyk will be the better player long term, and I also think he is easier to build around than Sullinger do to his floor spacing, passing, dribbling, and transition abilities

Don't hold back your criticisms. I know I am definitely one of the few that would go with Olynyk over Sullinger on this board, so I know there will be some blowback for this post. However, finding a guy with Olynyk's skill set as a 7 footer is unreal. The comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki before the season were unfair, and comparing him to one of the all time greats was definitely a long shot. But when you look at Olynyk's skill set, it actually lines up extremely well with Nowitzki's (skill set not talent). There is a reason Nowitzki is going to go down as one of the best PFs of all time (at least in the top 10), and that's because his unique blend of size, shooting, and dribbling made him impossible to guard. I highly doubt Olynyk will ever be near as good as Dirk, but I think his skill set will make him a tough cover for quite a while in the NBA whereas I think putting an athletic and long player on Sullinger can seriously hinder his abilities.

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