It's kind of funny, after all the criticism he's received for his tentativeness, Kelly Olynyk is now excelling for the Celtics. He's shooting 50 percent from three. No one's shooting it better. And now Celtics fans absolutely love him. "#FreeKelly" is starting to catch on Twitter, and TD Garden crowds simultaneously sound abuzz anytime Olynyk hoists up a three.
What a time to be alive if you're Olynyk, who scored nine points in the fourth quarter as the Celtics made the Magic vanish in their 113-94 victory on Friday. Olynyk finished with 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting, and the Celtics had a tremendous +60.9 Net Rating with him in the game.
"Anytime anybody's making threes on our team, it helps. Threes are contagious, they're one of the most contagious things probably next to the common flu," Olynyk said of his team's shooting performance. "When everybody's making threes, you gotta guard people differently. You can't help as much, you're gonna get open lanes, you're gonna get run outs, you're gonna get offensive rebounds. It just opens up everything up."
Olynyk sure sounds like a well-coached player by summarizing how spacing and lineups featuring three-point shooters make life a living hell for defenses.
It has for opponents, too, when Olynyk is firing on all cylinders. Check out these stats:
Feeding Kelly the ball more must be working . . . except the Celtics aren't doing that.
That's the crazy thing about this run Kelly's on. Even though it seems like everything has changed, not a whole lot really has.
So that's why I asked Brad Stevens what he probably considered a silly, obvious question: "Have you guys made an effort to feed Olynyk the ball more?"
Stevens responded by shaking his head in disapproval at me like an upset elder. He could've stopped there, but he answered anyway:
"I think he's just being more aggressive. I think the guys have always tried to get him the ball in the right spots. He's less hesitant to shoot. He's less hesitant to be aggressive. He's less hesitant to be a guy that we all expect to shoot the ball and score the ball. I mean, there's no reason he shouldn't. He puts in enough time to be a good shooter and scorer. So, whether that is learning where those spots are, whether that is more comfortable, more experienced, whatever it is. It's never been a skill or a desire issue from our part. We've always wanted him to shoot it."
Since January 6, when Stevens stapled David Lee to the bench and shortened the rotation to nine players, Olynyk has shot 56.5 percent from three and he's playing more minutes per game. It feels like he's being force-fed the ball, but some weird stats reveal that he's not.
Prior to the rotation change, Olynyk got a touch in the front court 24.6 times per 20 minutes, and since then he is 25.6 times. He was also shooting 7.9 times per 20 minutes, and now he is 8.9 times. His usage was 20.7 percent and now it's 21.7 percent.
Those are insignificant differences of once per 20 minutes.
Nothing externally has changed. It's an illusion.
But internally, a lot could be happening. Maybe it's mental, Olynyk's not hesitating anymore, as Stevens suggests. Maybe the team's tightened rotation has given Olynyk a greater sense of role certainty. Maybe now he feels comfortable with no anxiety about whether his minutes hinges on mistakes. So the recent uptick in minutes could make a difference for him, even though he's not being fed more shots.
Most big men take 3-4 years to develop in the NBA and Olynyk isn't like most bigs. He didn't grow into his huge 7-foot frame until he was an junior in high school, and he had only had one year of development at Gonzaga. Plus, his first instinct is to be a playmaker, but that's not a surprise; his frigging boyhood idol is Steve Nash, and at times he plays like a point guard by dishing out pinpoint passes you don't expect to see from a 7-footer.
Olynyk was a baby deer when he came into the NBA in 2013 and is just starting to learn how to walk. Now, in the middle of the third season of his career, it's around that time for it all to start clicking, and that's exactly what's happening in all areas of his game, not just as a fire breathing shooter.
But Olynyk won't shoot over 50 percent from three forever. A slump will come at some point, like it does for every shooter on the planet. So moving forward, it'll be key for Olynyk to maintain a high level of play even if his shots aren't falling early in the game, or if his teammates aren't clicking.
There are only so many available possessions in a single basketball game, but considering Olynyk's hot streak, and the fact he looks more comfortable than ever on the court, we could be entering a stage where it'd make sense to start actually feeding him the ball. That could help him get through those slumps in the future.
With a small sample size of 30 possessions, Olynyk is the third-most efficient big scoring off screens, per Synergy via NBA.com, behind only Anthony Davis and Chris Bosh. Olynyk is a rarity since he's capable of stroking threes off screens, or putting the ball on the floor and driving to the basket.
The play above is so hard for any big man to stop, since they don't usually have to run through screens, especially ones set by brick walls like Marcus Smart. Olynyk has been shooting off screens more in recent weeks, but it's unclear if more plays have been called with those installed actions.
In recent years the Celtics have made an effort to accelerate the development of Avery Bradley, and the departure of Jeff Green opened the door for Jae Crowder. Maybe now it's Kelly Olynyk's time to shine, whether he lets his hair flow, or puts it in a man bun.
Whenever Olynyk gets hot, use the hashtag #FeedKelly on Twitter. When I asked him if he likes that hashtag he said, "I approve of that. I can eat a lot though."
Kelly's hungry, and he's ready to be fed.