Boston Celtics’ rookie Kelly Olynyk was widely viewed as one of the most NBA-ready prospects in the 2013 NBA draft. His highly developed skills and offensive versatility appeared to give the seven-footer an immediate role to play and after a dominant Summer League showing there were even some thoughts that the big man could be in the Rookie of the Year discussion for the 2013-14 season. The Canadian rookie started slowly though, showing that strength and athleticism are just as important when it comes to being ready to play in the pros as the skills. Olynyk struggled early with his confidence, shooting and trying to keep up with the elite athletes in the NBA, but has shown steady improvement throughout the season and has become one of the Celtics’ best players of late.
The 22-year-old Olynyk has shown consistent improvement on a monthly basis during his rookie season and is starting to see his hard work pay off with a more consistent role in coach Brad Stevens’ offense over the past few weeks. So far in March, Olynyk has averaged 11.3 points and 6.4 rebounds, a significant boost over his season averages of 7.7 and 5. It is the difference in his confidence that seems to be paying off more than anything now for the rookie, where he once hesitated to look for his own shot he now looks to attack. He is trusting in his skillset and his unique long range shooting ability from the power forward/center position. In March his shooting has skyrocketed up to .507 from the field and a tremendous .412 from three point range. The March numbers also don’t include a 21 point, 8 rebound, 4 assist effort against the Jazz in the last game of February, further showing what the rookie could do with extended minutes.
It was a rough transition for Kelly Olynyk to the NBA from Gonzaga where he dominated the NCAA and had led his team to a number one seed. The speed of the professional game seemed to catch Olynyk off guard and he was often outmatched physically early on by the sheer size and strength of the players who man the paint in the NBA. It was flagged by scouts leading up to the draft that Olynyk may struggle defensively due to a lack of speed and strength but gradually throughout the season he has worked with the Celtics’ coaching staff, put time in the gym and is showing signs of becoming a true NBA athlete. He will never be the fastest or the strongest, but Olynyk has an advantage over the majority of big men with his ability to dribble, shoot from deep and especially passing the ball. If he can just get his body to the point where it is no longer a liability his elite skills will do the rest and allow him to become a great player in the league.
He still needs to continue working on his defense and rebounding, but Olynyk has shown tremendous strides throughout his rookie season that give hope that he will at least become serviceable in those areas going forward. He no longer looks lost on the court, trusting his own basketball instincts, which is great considering he has great natural court awareness and feel for the game. His pairing with fellow big man Jared Sullinger is perhaps the Celtics’ most effective combination at this stage of the season, the combination improves the team’s overall scoring, rebounding and passing as both players have great versatility compared to the average big man. At 22 years old, there is still a lot of room to grow for Olynyk and as the Celtics close out the 2013-14 season he has proven worthy of considerable playing time going into next season. Whether the Celtics decide to continue with their youth-rebuild or cash in and swing for the fences in a trade this offseason, Olynyk has shown enough late in his rookie year to prove himself worthy of additional playing time and should be a valuable member of the Celtics’ roster going forward. With 13 games left on the schedule this season, we should continue to see an increase in playing time and production from the Celtics rookie.