Expect Kelly Olynyk to Have a Breakout Season in 2016-17


There is a lot of breakout potential for the Celtics in the upcoming season.

Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier are two in particular who have shown in flashes that they can take major steps forward, but another player to keep an eye on is Kelly Olynyk.

Kelly, entering his fourth season, has become one of the most experienced players on the bench, but is still pressured to improve knowing that the team is stacked with other young players who can take his job.

On a modest sample size, Kelly is currently the best shooter on the Celtics bench. His career 37.3% from deep last season was bolstered by shooting at 40.5% last season. He’s also a versatile scorer who can put the ball on the floor and contort his way to the basket, similar to an Evan Turner drive. Speaking of Turner, his (and Sullinger’s) absence leave a lot of minutes on the table to be claimed, and also create a need for playmaking off the bench. If Olynyk can overcome his indecisiveness, he can fill in the gaps, not as a playmaker, but as an all-around problem for defenses.

Kelly's Shot Chart

Source: vorped.com

54.2% in the paint is lower than it should be, as many centers can get that number above 60%, but I can forgive Olynyk’s 54% as many of his attempts near the basket are on drives instead of post-ups and dunks. Not to say the bounce isn’t real, it’s very real, but Kelly isn’t great at finishing through contact and that’s reflected in his percentage near the rim.

His mid-range game is pretty ugly, but luckily for Kelly, he’s playing the era of basketball where you can get by on threes and jams. There is a noticeable lack of Kevin Garnetts and Tim Duncans gracing the NBA floors these days to make Kelly look bad.

I have often criticized Kelly Olynyk’s defense in my conversations and my writing. If you buy into advanced stats, Olynyk plays above average defense. He ranks 24 in defensive real plus-minus (DRPM) among centers, ahead of Al Horford, Marc Gasol, Dwight Howard, and Tristan Thompson. As a bench player in a league that’s relatively light on centers, maybe Kelly’s workload isn’t all that bad. Maybe he benefits by being surrounded by exceptional defenders. Or maybe, somehow, Kelly is a legitimate defender who doesn’t play all that physically or blocks a lot of shots, but holds his own.

Olynyk’s numbers were almost identical over the last two seasons, which makes a case against expecting any significant improvement. What’s different about the upcoming season is that Olynyk is entering the best right-place-at-the-right-time scenario of his career.

As I said earlier, the minutes are there for him. The Celtics lost two major contributors to free agency and replaced them with a veteran and a rookie. Coming off the bench with him will be Marcus Smart, a player with a high ceiling who will also be looking to take on Evan Turner’s role of the floor general off the bench. If Smart develops a more well-rounded offensive game, it could be just as beneficial to Olynyk’s career than it is to Smart’s.

I understand that as a Celtics fan on the internet, I’m likely to be labeled as someone who overrates our players. I’m used to it, but CBS Sports has the Celtics bench rated the 3rd best in the league going into next season and hoopsstats.com will show you that they were near the top of many statistical categories last year. While much of this can be attributed to the emergence of Evan Turner, which, by the way, also came out of nowhere, I still expect Kelly to take a big step forward.

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