WALTHAM — It all seemed so easy five months ago in Orlando. Kelly Olynyk sailed down the court like a vessel with a powerful engine, stopping to launch jumpers on the break or drive to the basket.
Olynyk was arguably the best player at the Orlando Summer League, a potential Rookie of the Year candidate for a rebuilding Celtics club that would desperately need his production.
Nearly a third of the way through the season, Olynyk’s transition to the NBA has been a meticulous process, though he suffered a sprained right ankle that cost the Canadian 10 games and has been erratic shooting from the perimeter.
Olynyk swished two 3-pointers in the first half of the Celtics’ 101-97 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night, giving him six for the season. He is shooting 40 percent from the field and 25 percent from the 3-point line. He scored in double figures three times in his first eight games but hasn’t scored more than 9 since, but his performance Monday served as a confidence booster.
Finally recovered from the nagging ankle injury, comfortable enough to launch the open jumper and receiving enough playing time to make an impact, Olynyk could be a factor for the Celtics in the coming months.
“They’re both basketball,” he said with a smile when asked to compare summer league and the regular season. “But it’s definitely a different level, different guys, it’s another step up but that’s part of the learning process. You’ve got to work on a little bit different stuff in order to get your shots off and gain some respect.”
It’s not too late for Olynyk to make a Rookie of the Year run and coach Brad Stevens said the 7-footer will play a primary role in his big-man rotation. Where Olynyk has flourished is rebounding, averaging 5.3 per game in just 21.6 minutes per game, second among rookies behind Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams.
Olynyk realizes he hasn’t made the expected splash.
“I’d say it’s pretty average; I wouldn’t say I’m doing anything out of the ordinary,” he said. “But that’s part of the process. Stuff is not always going to come easy and when you hit adversity you’ve got to keep fighting and work through it. You can’t get down on yourself or you are going to take a turn for the worst. I wouldn’t say it’s overwhelming but it’s a challenge. Every day is a challenge and it’s the best players in the world every night and you have to bring your game every day or you’re going to get killed.”
Laid-back would be the best way to describe Olynyk. He is trying not to place pressure on himself because he realizes an NBA rookie season is a marathon. One good game can’t be embellished because there is another game the next night.
“It’s about gaining that confidence at practice and keeping it,” he said. “You can’t waver. You can’t lose it. You might miss a couple of shots and have a bad night but you have to be able to bounce back.”
During Monday’s shootaround, Olynyk was disappointed after several of his jumpers clanged off the rim. So he took extra shots following the session and during his pregame workout at TD Garden and it resulted in the second time this season he’s converted multiple 3-pointers.
He also spent the evening observing Minnesota’s Kevin Love, who is the league’s preeminent perimeter-shooting big man. While Love missed nine of his 11 3-point attempts Monday, the mere threat of him beyond the arc opens up the floor for the dribble or pass. That was not lost on Olynyk.
“It opens up the floor for other players and people have to respect you,” he said. “Personally for someone who can shoot the 3, it opens up the pump-fake game and drive game because people have to close out harder on you.”
Stevens said he has full confidence in Olynyk’s ability to adjust to the NBA and flourish when he’s healthy and comfortable. He is part of the five-man tandem with Jared Sullinger, Kris Humphries, Brandon Bass, and Vitor Faverani.
“I think [his first season] has gone really well,” Stevens said. “We’ve got older guys there [at forward/center] and Kelly’s not only held his own but at times been one of our better bigs. So like anybody else, he’s going to see some inconsistency and hopefully that inconsistency wanes as you get further along the season.”
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An NBA source said there is “no validity” to the rumor the Celtics and Sacramento Kings are in serious discussions to send Rajon Rondo out west. Rondo, who has been cleared to practice after recovering from a torn right anterior cruciate ligament, is set to return to action in early January. The Kings are undergoing a makeover under new ownership and just acquired Rudy Gay, a close friend of Rondo’s from their AAU days.
Another NBA source said the Celtics have interest in Houston center Omer Asik, who has been on the trade block for weeks after being displaced by the acquisition of Dwight Howard.