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Can a star be born in Boston?: unsung heroes

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You can measure a player's value by his numbers and dig even deeper into their plus-minus, PER, or usage rates. Or you can throw out the stats completely and go with your gut.

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Hair length.  That might be the only thing that they have remotely in common.  One wears flowing locks like those of a greek god.  The other: no fuss, no muss dreadlocks pulled back into a rubber band and a ponytail.  Kelly Olynyk and Jae Crowder could be in a 80's buddy cop movie and be overnight stars, but on the Celtics, they'll become key members of the supporting cast.

Did Olynyk get better from his rookie to sophomore year?  Statistically no, not really.  He went from averaging a cool 8.7-5.2-1.6 in 20 minutes to a lukewarm 10.3-4.7-1.7 in 22.3 minutes.  He shot marginally better and took one more 3 per game but shot nearly the same percentage (~35%).  Those numbers don't exactly jump off the page for the #13 pick of the 2013 NBA Draft.  And remember: the Celtics had to trade up to get him.  Some might consider that move one of Danny Ainge's failures of late with players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Dennis Schröder still on the board, but you have to take a deeper dive into Olynyk's full effect on the floor to appreciate his value.

Here's where Olynyk's stats shines.  Plus-minus won't score you a win on DraftKings.com, but it's a telling number when it comes to a player's effectiveness on the floor.  For players that averaged 20+ minutes per game, only Isaiah Thomas (5.5) had a higher +/- than Olynyk's +3.5, but KO did play more games in green, particularly during that early season stretch when the Celtics played a bunch of road games against playoff teams.  And for what it's worth, Olynyk lead the team in "real plus-minus" at 3.51, putting him in the same range as All Stars Marc Gasol, Blake Griffin, and Serge Ibaka.

Is Kelly as good as those players?  Not right now and maybe he'll never be, but he's still a valuable piece to the rebuild.  Maybe not necessarily a cornerstone brick, but a glue guy that can act as the mortar.  The knock against Olynyk is that he doesn't do anything particularly well, but that's also his greatest strength.  While he doesn't dominate in the post and isn't the biggest threat on the perimeter, his ability to play everywhere, especially at his size, makes him a key piece moving forward.

Over the summer, he's been very active reaching out in the community and we've seen glimpses of what he's been working on this summer.  Here's some video of a Team Canada scrimmage from our friend Ryan McNeill over at HoopsAddict.com:

Jared Sullinger's weight loss has been a subplot all summer, but KO should get some credit for transforming his body, too.  He looks slimmer and more cut.  That should translate to quickness on both ends.

Offensively, Boston's attack mimics the cumulative effect of waves crashing against a ship weathering a storm; rock the boat enough and it might just capsize.  Now, Olynyk may not be a tsunami of LeBron proportions, but entering this off season, if Ainge and Stevens had the opportunity to add a seven footer that could hit the outside shot, put the ball on the floor, make the right pass, and play good team defense, most fans would be happy to put him in Celtic green.  After one of the pre-draft workouts, Stevens was asked what kind of players the team was looking to add:

And then from a basketball standpoint, I just think we need to continue to focus on the ability to be a little bit more versatile, which I thought helped us as we got later on in the season with a couple of changes that we made. And then I think shooting's a big deal. Obviously everybody's going to talk about rim protectors and those types of things. There's only so many of those guys. So I think that those other two areas are really important for us.

Uh, sounds a lot like Olynyk, right?  There are other unsung heroes that probably won't hit star status with the national media, but will be considered team MVP's within the organization.  Consider the case of Jae Crowder.  This summer, he signed a team friendly 5-year contract that gets better with age as the 25-year-old presumably gets better over the years.  Like Olynyk, his hard numbers won't dazzle fans, but he'll be one of the hard hat players that die hards will love.

Boston's playoff run fizzled in a sweep to the Cavs, but one of the bright spots was Crowder's fearlessness to take on LeBron, Perk, and seemingly the entire Cavs team.  Like most of what Crowder does, the effect of his sheer confidence can not be quantified, but it shouldn't go unnoticed.

I hate to ben mention them in the same breath, so I'll pause between the two, but Crowder (inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale) could have a similar effect as Kevin Garnett on this young team.  In a league shifting towards more wing play, it's important to have your best defenders dogging the perimeter.  While Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, and Terry Rozier hound opposing guards, it will be Crowder paired up with the likes of LeBron, Carmelo, Durant, and Harden.

What I love about Crowder is that his hustle comes without theatrics.  I love(d) KG, but now years removed, I can recognize how much of his personality--the barking on all fours, the stanchion head bumps--was showmanship.  The vibe I get from Crowder is the same vibe I get from my 66-year-old mail man.  Day in, day out hustle without the need for fanfare, but hey, maybe I should give him a standing O from time to time.  Dude deserves it.

Olynyk and Crowder probably won't be stars, but if they can hang Banner #18 in the Garden, don't be surprised if their numbers go up with it.