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Free Kelly Olynyk: It's time for the Celtics to play the rookie for heavy, consistent minutes

Kelly Olynyk has played exceptionally as of late, so should he receive more heavy, consistent minutes? The statistics suggest that he should.

Free Kelly.
Free Kelly.
Alex Trautwig

Positive things happen to the Boston Celtics whenever Kelly Olynyk is on the floor. Olynyk's ability to pass the ball helps the offense run more smoothly, and he stretches the floor, opening up the paint for his teammates to get baskets.

The rookie big man out of Gonzaga has some underwhelming season averages -- 6.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game -- but his energy has brought the Celtics to another level on the offensive end.

Olynyk got off to a slow start this season, as he was adjusting to the speed and athleticism of the NBA while recovering from plantar fasciitis, before his year was set back even further when he severely sprained his ankle on November 22nd.

Fortunately, that injury turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the 22-year-old Canadian, since he received time to completely heal from his various injuries.

Since returning on December 13th, Olynyk has advanced his own game and made a significant impact on the team. In the past 30 games, the Celtics have performed considerably better with him on the floor: Boston scores a respectable 107 points per 100 possessions when KO plays, compared to a dismal 98.6 when he's on the bench.

"He's starting to get a good feel," said Brad Stevens. "There's a base offense, there's a set offense, and then there's playing in space and understanding where your opportunities are when you have those unstructured opportunities. He's really starting to figure that out."

Coach Stevens went on to explain that Olynyk is starting to develop an understanding for when to make certain moves on offense, like when to roll or pop after setting an on-ball pick.

"He's got a really good feel for the game and he's starting to pick up where people are around him, which is opening up opportunities for himself and others," explained Stevens.

Part of the reason Kelly Olynyk might be performing better is simply because he's receiving more playing time. In the past four games he is averaging 25 minutes, 11.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per contest. While shooting 50 percent from the field, Olynyk is vying for consistent minutes.

After attaining a double double against the Spurs, the 7-footer was asked about what has been the most difficult thing to adjust to in the NBA. He said, "The speed, the athleticism, it's so much higher. You need to do things at a faster pace out there."

Putting aside the statistics for a moment, it just seems like Olynyk plays more comfortably when he receives extra playing time. Perhaps, like many athletes, he needs extra time to develop a rhythm, so his current 18.5 minutes per game just isn't cutting it.

When prodded further about looking at ease on the floor as of late, the rookie big man responded, "Once you're comfortable out there, you kind of know what the game has in store. You can pick and choose your areas to attack offensively and defensively. Once you've been through it once before, it helps in that way."

This comment and his recent success induced a thought: How has Kelly Olynyk performed this season when he receives heavy minutes compared to light minutes?

Interestingly, the statistics imply that Olynyk performs much more efficiently when he plays increased minutes:

Kelly Olynyk Per 36 Minute Averages
Statistic Per 36 averages while playing 15 minutes or less (18 games) Per 36 averages while playing under 20 minutes (25 games) Per 36 averages while playing over 20 minutes (19 games) Per 36 while playing 25 minutes or more (9 games)
Points 9.6 10.4 14.8 15.6
FG% 31.6% 38.3% 45.4% 48.9%
Rebounds 8.2 7.9 9.9 9.5
Assists 1.6 3.9 4.1 3.9
Turnovers 2.9 2.9 2.8 2.9

Of course, the more minutes Olynyk plays, the more points and rebounds he'll accumulate. That's why his averages were adjusted to a baseline of "per 36 minutes." In other words, if he scores seven points in 18 minutes, that would amount to 14 points in 36 minutes. Or, if he scores 15 points in 31 minutes, it would be 17.4 points in 36.

Looking at Olynyk's per 36 numbers, it's apparent that his rebounds, assists, and turnovers stay relatively constant no matter how much he plays. He sees a slight uptick in rebounds when he plays over 20 minutes, but for the most part, his per-minute rebounding rate stays the same.

What's most compelling is his increased scoring production. Olynyk shoots 48.9 percent when he plays 25 minutes or more compared to only 31.6 with 15 or fewer. That's an incredible (and unexpected) difference, which can only be explained by his knack for developing a flow as the game progresses.

"Sometimes you're in the flow, sometimes you're not. You got to make it so you're in the flow more than you're not," said Kelly Olynyk, when describing his scoring prowess.

As the game progresses, maybe Olynyk develops that "feel" Brad Stevens talked about, so he's better able to read the defense, and pick his spots to score. Mechanically, maybe things just come more naturally to him in his 25th minute on the floor compared to only his fifth.

What this all suggests is that Kelly Olynyk deserves to play more frequently. He has performed at a higher level with additional minutes, and so have the Celtics whenever he's simply on the floor. Instead of playing for 30 minutes one night, and only 12 the next, he must receive consistent time.

It's possible that Olynyk's offensive abilities give Boston a better chance at winning games, but most importantly, more time will allow him to develop his game as much as he can during his rookie season.

He still needs to make significant strides -- especially defensively -- so additional chances will only help him. This will pay dividends heading into next season, where he could be placed into a sixth man or starting role.

"You just gotta make most of the time you're out there and do whatever you can to help the team be successful," said Kelly Olynyk.

As he's set to play in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night, Kelly Olynyk is most definitely contributing during his rookie season opportunities with the Boston Celtics.

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