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Kelly Olynyk's rookie year put him in good company in NBA history

Was Kelly Olynyk's rookie year better than we give it credit for?

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Kelly Olynyk's name often gets mention among the likes of Dirk Nowitzki and Larry Bird because of his long hair, the team he plays for, and the number he wears. While it's fun for fans to make these comparisons, it's unfair since the bar shouldn't be set so high for Kelly, or most any other player for that matter.

But that doesn't change the fact that Olynyk deserves praise for being a highly productive player during his rookie year with the Boston Celtics. The team scored 6.2 points more per 100 possessions with the 7-footer from Gonzaga on the floor than they did without him, a sign that he made a positive offensive impact.

More impressively, Olynyk's per 36-minute averages of 15.6 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 2.8 assists put him in good company in NBA history. Only nine centers or power forwards 23-years or younger have had per 36 averages of at least 12 points, eight rebounds, and two assists, with a 33.0 three-point percentage.

Here are the players who have achieved that status:

Player Season Age / Year Team PTS/36 REB/36 AST/36 PER FG% 2P% 3P% eFG%
Kelly Olynyk 2013-14 22 / 1st BOS 15.6 9.4 2.8 15.2 46.6% 50.0% 35.1% 50.6%
Kevin Love 2010-11 22 / 3rd MIN 20.4 15.3 2.5 24.3 47.0% 48.3% 41.7% 51.3%
Dirk Nowitzki 2001-02 23 / 4th DAL 22.2 9.4 2.3 24.1 47.7% 50.8% 39.7% 53.2%
Kevin Garnett 1999-90 23 / 5th MIN 20.6 10.6 4.5 23.6 49.7% 50.4% 37.0% 50.7%
Chris Webber 1996-97 23 / 4th WSB 18.5 9.5 4.2 21.8 51.8% 53.5% 39.7% 54.3%
Kevin Love 2009-10 21 / 2nd MIN 17.7 13.8 2.9 20.7 45.0% 47.4% 33.0% 51.3%
Larry Bird 1979-80 23 / 1st BOS 21.3 10.4 4.5 20.5 47.4% 48.1% 40.6% 49.4%
Antoine Walker 1998-99 22 / 3rd BOS 18.2 8.3 3.0 17.0 41.2% 42.6% 36.9% 45.6%
Josh McRoberts 2010-11 23 / 4th IND 12.0 8.6 3.4 16.0 54.7% 57.7% 38.3% 57.6%
Spencer Hawes 2008-09 20 / 2nd SAC 14.0 8.7 2.4 13.0 46.6% 48.6% 34.8% 49.1%

What a list, huh?

While Olynyk's PER isn't in the same league as players like Dirk, KG, Bird, and Love, it still says something that he put himself on this exclusive list as a rookie.

In fact, Olynyk and Bird are the only rookies on the list, further establishing the point that KO's rookie year was special -- maybe even more so than we give it credit for.

Now, I know what you're thinking: "So, you're saying that Olynyk could be the next Dirk!?"

No, not at all. KO simply does not have the elite Hall of Fame skill level of Dirk, but what can be derived from this data is that Olynyk has a low chance of becoming a "bust." No player who put up the aforementioned numbers at a young age went on to fail in the NBA, and all of them are or were effective players.

Olynyk is probably closer to the "Hawes/McRoberts" end of the spectrum, but he is definitely further ahead than they were during their rookie seasons.

Big men who can battle down low for rebounds, drain threes from the perimeter, and pass at a high level are rare in the NBA. Olynyk's skill-set makes him one of the more unique bigs in the league, which might be one reason why it's so difficult to think of similar players.

As Kelly Olynyk enters year two of his professional career, fans should forget about making comparisons and instead look forward to another year of development for a young and promising Boston Celtics big man.

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