The Other Guys: Kelly Olynyk
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In today’s NBA, having big men that can help stretch the floor is key for a successful offense. You just cannot play with two traditional bigs on the court at all times because the offense can easily turn stagnant. A particularly interesting 27-year old stretch big resides in South Beach, and he does so much more for his team than just make threes.
Kelly Olynyk’s season averages of 9.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists on 47% shooting from the field and 35% from deep could be considered disappointing by some. After having a career year last season, his efficiency and his numbers overall have taken a small dip. But do not let the basic box score stats fool you, this guy is still one of the key members of the Miami Heat.
Olynyk has a very diverse skillset on the court that allows him to have a positive impact whenever he plays. He can shoot well from three or mid-range and also drive towards the basket and convert on tough finishes. His long-range shooting this year is at near career-low levels, just 0.1 percent above his 34.9% accuracy mark in 2015, as he has had much better results closer to the basket.
Olynyk is shooting 47% on mid-range shots, right at the 86th percentile for bigs per Cleaning the Glass, making him one of the lone bright spots in Miami from the mid-range area.
The Heat ranks dead last in the league in mid-range shooting percentage, and KO is certainly not to blame. He is, however, part of the blame for Miami’s dreadful percentage of missed wide open threes. Per NBA Stats, Olynyk has shot just 32.8% on wide open threes, something weird that may suggest he is in a long slump considering he shoots 45.5% on three-pointers that NBA Stats tracks simply as “open”. As for his interior game, Kelly is 80-for-122 on shots within four feet of the rim, good for 84th percentile compared to other big men and good for a guy who is supposed to be chilling around the three-point line for most of the game waiting for the ball.
Perhaps the most underrated aspect of Olynyk’s game is his playmaking. He has really good vision for a 7-footer and knows when to cut and set screens. These are very useful skills because, given he can also shoot off pindowns and create for both himself and his teammates in handoff situations, he usually has the defense guessing his next move. KO has assisted on 12.8% of his teammates buckets, which may not seem like a lot but is a good number for a big man. This assist percentage is top 25th percentile, so he is for sure one of the league’s great playmaking bigs.
I personally love it when Olynyk gets the ball at elbow height, because his creativeness and vision allows him to quickly capitalize on any defensive weakness the opponent shows. One of KO’s favorite plays is the fake handoff, which he executes to perfection in the following clip:
Granted, Olynyk is not outstanding on the defensive end. His height turns out to be a disadvantage because he is just too slow to chase smaller and lighter stretch fours. He gets most of his playing time at the power forward spot because he has to share the court with either Hassan Whiteside or Bam Adebayo, who should ideally remain as close to the basket as possible.
Kelly makes up for his defensive deficiencies with big hustle and endless effort plays. He dives for loose balls that seem dead already; he fights for offensive rebounds even when he does not have the best positioning. Teammates, the coaching staff, and fans alike love guys who give it their all. He is a decent interior defender and rebounder, so it is not like he is always a negative on the defensive end.
Part of him being an “other guy” is the lack of opportunity. Miami needs to play the young trio of Hassan Whiteside, Bam Adebayo, and Derrick Jones Jr., with Olynyk and James Johnson battling for the remaining minutes. In 20 games Kelly has played over 25 minutes, the Heat are 10 - 10 and he averages 15.1 points. That’s not the best record, but it’s much better than Miami’s current and unacceptable sub-.500 status.
The next time you watch a Heat game and Olynyk checks in, give him a close look. Watch how he moves on offense when he does not have the ball; watch how he calls for switches and is quick to rotate on defense; watch how he hustles for the ball. He is not part of Miami’s core, he is just one of the other guys. But he is one of the other guys I’m sure everyone would love to have on their team.