NEWPORT, R.I. — Celtics rookie Kelly Olynyk is adjusting to all that is new in the NBA game — the spacing, pace, physicality, overall level of talent.
The 7-footer out of Gonzaga said that after his first training camp with the Celtics, which wrapped up Thursday at Salve Regina University, it was the offense that his sharp mind grasped quickest of all.
What’s next is the level of defense, which figures to be a cornerstone of the rebuilding Celtics under rookie head coach Brad Stevens, whose teams at Butler University were notorious for shutting down opponents.
Olynyk said he still needs to learn some of the principles behind that defense. “But hopefully my basketball IQ can get me through some of that,” he added.
Olynyk, the Celtics’ 2013 first-round draft pick, shined during the team’s summer league in Orlando, averaging 18 points and 7.8 rebounds per game — tantalizing numbers that led observers to believe he could make an impact as a rookie.
So far, though, Olynyk is more focused on adjusting to the simplicities of the game. More than anything, what Olynyk said he learned at camp was that “you can’t take any plays off at this level.”
He also got to face some of the Celtics’ other physical big men, such as Kris Humphries, Brandon Bass, and Vitor Faverani, which provided a lesson in what type of physicality he’ll face often.
“Obviously they’re real strong, real tough, real big, and you’ve got to match that intensity,” Olynyk said. “That’s the most important thing.”
It’s unclear how the Celtics might use Olynyk this season, but when he was drafted, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge hinted that Olynyk’s 3-point range and mobility would lend itself to him being more of a perimeter player.
However, Olynyk said that Stevens has made it clear that he wants the Celtics to “space the floor.”
“I think that’s the way he likes to play,” Olynyk said. “He really likes to space the floor and open it for other people, and be able to draw defenses different ways, and be able to dictate how defenses play us, rather than the defense dictating how we’re going to play. I think that’s something he likes in a player and in a team, and hopefully I can bring that to the team.”
Sullinger set to play
Second-year forward Jared Sullinger, who played just 45 games last season before undergoing back surgery, said he expects to play during the upcoming slate of preseason games.
The Celtics’ first preseason game is Monday against Toronto at TD Garden.
Up for challenge
Camp was a homecoming of sorts for MarShon Brooks, who attended Providence College.
The former Brooklyn Nets guard, who joined the Celtics this offseason after a blockbuster trade, faces a logjam at shooting guard, as Jordan Crawford, Keith Bogans, and Courtney Lee also play that position.
The backcourt will also change drastically when Rajon Rondo (knee) returns to action. But Brooks said he’s focused on learning the plays and being sharp from behind the 3-point line.
And from Brooks’s comments, it seems that Stevens has already engrained his idea of “win the next possession” into the Celtics — a notion that often leads to a lot of close games, as it did at Butler.
“Every game is going to be a close game,” Brooks said. “Every game is going to come down to the last five minutes by the intensity [level] that we play at.”
Rookies salute Lee
After practice, the rookies and training camp invitees gathered at center court to sing happy birthday to Lee, who turned 28 Thursday.
“That was the best one by far,” Lee said of the birthday serenade. “I had about five or six rookies over there, and they were two-stepping while they were singing to me. That was by far the best one.”
One of those singing was Sullinger, who is still a rookie by the team’s standard because he played in just 45 games last season. Among Sullinger’s duties this season is to be in charge of the rookies.
“We’re going to yell at him, then he’s going to yell at the [rookies],” Lee said. “Or we’re just going to yell at all of them. But we’re coming at Sully. Especially if something is forgotten on the road, like some soap. Or something like that. All the Pedialyte we drink. We [say], ‘Sully, get them in order — now.’”
Sullinger said that he’ll be free of that role once he plays the full 82 regular-season games.
Russell honors Stern
Celtics legend Bill Russell presented outgoing NBA commissioner David Stern with the W.E.B. Du Bois medal Wednesday at Harvard University.
Stern was one of six celebrities to receive the honor, Harvard’s highest honor in the field of African and African-American studies.
He received it as Harvard celebrated the launch of the Hutchins Center for African and African-American Research.
According to the Harvard Crimson, Russell praised Stern for the league’s community-service efforts during his time as commissioner.Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.