INDIANAPOLIS — Celtics coach Brad Stevens wants more from Kelly Olynyk.
“He’s gotta be aggressive,” Stevens said of his rookie forward.
But Olynyk has been aggressive — especially lately.
The team’s 2013 first-round draft pick out of Gonzaga has turned the corner and is no longer turning down open looks that he passed up earlier in the season.
Of course, Stevens is always cautious with praise. When asked about a player who is playing well, Stevens often just says, “The exciting part is, he can get a lot better.”
But Stevens did dole out some rare compliments toward Olynyk.
“He is playing really well in a lot of ways,” Stevens acknowledged here Tuesday before his Celtics fell, 94-83, to the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “He’s playing aggressive.”
Indeed, entering Tuesday, Olynyk was averaging 16.7 points, 6 rebounds, and 1.7 assists over 20.7 minutes in his last three games since returning from a toe sprain.
And Olynyk is averaging close to 10 field goal attempts in those three games, and he’s making an impressive 58.6 percent of them.
Olynyk struggled Tuesday, with seven rebounds and 3 points on 1-of-9 shooting against the Pacers’ towering frontline, but Stevens does want Olynyk to shoot even more, to look for his shot even more.
Stevens even said that he told some season ticket-holders seated next to the Celtics bench before a recent road game to “yell at [Olynyk] if he didn’t shoot.”
Stevens added, “We’re going to circle the wagons and get everybody on board with that. He can’t be reluctant to shoot for us to be good. He’s got to become a stretch-[power forward] that is a really hard matchup for him to be the best that he can be, and for us to be the best that we can be. He’s getting there. He’s getting there. He’s playing pretty well right now.”
What’s been the key change? Stevens said it’s not any schemes that the team is running.
“I think he’s just getting more comfortable,” Stevens said. “We’re challenging him too.”
As an example, Stevens noted that he recently gave Olynyk an autographed photo of Olynyk’s defense against Butler guard Roosevelt Jones during a game between Gonzaga and Butler last year.
In that game, Gonzaga led by 1 with 3.5 seconds left after Olynyk sank a pair of free throws. But Jones stole an inbounds pass intended for Olynyk, then drove the length of the court and hit a game-winning floater over Olynyk at the buzzer.
With a smile, Stevens said that ever since he gave Olynyk that photo, “He’s been great.”
Olynyk laughed and admitted, “It probably gave me a spark or something.”
But the 7-footer knows that his coach wants more.
“I guess so, if that’s what he’s saying,” Olynyk said.
There’s a balance there, however.
“You can be overaggressive, but sometimes that’s a detriment to your style of play and to the team,” Olynyk said. “It’s a fine line. I have to keep working towards finding that.”
Olynyk has spent more time on the perimeter lately, shooting eight 3-pointers in his last three games entering Tuesday.
“I’m just working within the system, doing whatever I can,” he said. “And then wherever they put me, trying to excel at that spot. I think on different areas of the floor, I’ve developed. So we’ll see what happens.”
The NBA 3-point line is four feet farther back than the college 3-pointer, but Olynyk said he’s comfortable with the difference in distance.
“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “You shoot them all the time now in practices, games, workouts. You’re used to it. It is normal now, second nature.”
Ramping it up
Rajon Rondo played 41 minutes, his most in the 19 games he’s played since returning to action after missing nearly a year following a knee injury.
“I felt fine, Rondo said after finishing with 8 points and 8 assists. “I got tired at the end, but I was able to make it through.”
Stevens said part of the reason Rondo played so much, including the entire second half, was because he isn’t going to play Wednesday against the New York Knicks at TD Garden, marking the fifth time that Rondo will sit out the second game of a back-to-back set to rest.
The always well-spoken Stevens offered the following out-of-character response after the game when asked about the Pacers’ recent four-game losing streak: “They’re 47-17? They ain’t got no troubles.” . . . Stevens was met by a throng of local reporters interested in catching up with the Indiana native and former Butler head coach. “It’s always good to be home,” Stevens said . . . Avery Bradley, who has missed 17 of the last 20 games with a right ankle injury, did not travel with the team here. The guard, who started the team’s first 43 games, has said that he is hopeful that he can play Friday against Phoenix at TD Garden.Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.