Kelly Olynyk’s return to the Celtics shows what we can look forward to with a healthy Celtics lineup. After shooting only one of six in a disappointing loss to Washington, Kelly has shot a combined 12 of 24 from the field including five of 11 from deep, helping Boston win a back-to-back at starting at home against New York and ending on the road in Indiana. Olynyk started in these two games and brought back some of the qualities that made last year’s team so successful – hustle, spacing, and toughness.
(credit to u/timi093 on Reddit)
Olynyk finished the game in Indiana with 16 points, six boards, and four assists. By grabbing at least six rebounds in each of his three games, he is now tied with Crowder for the second-highest average on the team, and by taking a total of eight free throws in that span, he now averages the second most attempts per game behind Isaiah Thomas. How strong has his impact been since returning?
It’s a small sample size, but lineups including Olynyk have jumped out as the Celtics’ most successful lineups thus far. A lineup of Bradley/Jerebko/Rozier/Smart/Olynyk was +9 in just over two minutes played while another lineup of Bradley/Smart/Thomas/Zeller/Olynyk achieved the same rating in about four minutes played. In his attempts to score off a pick and roll play, Olynyk is scoring 1.455 points per possession, putting him in the 93rd percentile in the league.
While known for his shooting and mobility on offense, Olynyk’s defense might be what allowed the Celtics to climb back to a winning record. Ball handlers trying to finish plays with Olynyk as the defender are zero of nine from the field. Nobody else in the league has defended it that well. In general, defenders are scoring 0.75 points per possession against Olynyk, putting him in the 84th percentile.
In comparison, Jonas Jerebko is giving up 1.155 points per possession, which is in the 7th percentile. On those same pick and roll ball handler plays, he gives up 1.4 PPP, all the way down in the 1st percentile. On jumps shots, he gives up 1.552 PPP, which ranks him at 328 in that category… out of 329. What Jerebko brings to the offense does not make up for this, as his 0.75 PPP is well below average. Yet, as we saw earlier, the Celtics were +9 with a lineup including Olynyk and Jerebko. Those aren't trashed time minutes, either. They were at the end of the second quarter against Indiana. What can I say? Stats are weird, or maybe Olynyk has made that much of a difference.
While rebounding is still a clear issue, Olynyk’s production has shown us that injuries were slowing the team down more than anything, and the slight uptick he brought over the other bigs in most statistics was enough to put the Celtics over the top in two tight games. While looking through all the lineups that coach Stevens has used, you’ll find that Olynyk is included in some of the best but is not the most common name among them. Avery Bradley is in the top six Celtics lineups while Isaiah Thomas appears in five of the top 10, but is still one of the most common players to see in a lineup with a positive rating. When you look at those two players and what they bring, you’ll see that the Celtics aren’t just lacking rebounds, but also free throws. Isaiah has taken 85 free throws this year. Nobody else on the team has taken as many as 20.
As I’m typing this, I’m seeing tweets that Al Horford could be good to go in New Orleans. As we move forward, I’ll have my eye on the rebounds, but more so on the free throws. Somebody in the Celtics offense besides Isaiah Thomas has to take the initiate to drive and score, or we’ll be looking at a long season where we depend on too much of our offense coming from him or Bradley. We saw in the first few games that you can make up for rebounding, so the primary focus should be getting each player healthy so that they can run reliable scorers for all 48 minutes of the game.