Kelly Olynyk wears his laidback attitude as a badge of pride. He is one of those youngsters who believes he can thrive and flourish on talent alone. It’s not that Olynyk doesn’t embrace the mental part of the game, he just doesn’t quite comprehend that the most successful players are generally the toughest.
So his NBA indoctrination has been methodical. Baby-faced Celtics coach Brad Stevens is growing stubble encouraging Olynyk to be more aggressive and consistent on the offensive end, to be stronger with the ball, reduce the timidity, and impose his will.
Since missing 18 games with a badly sprained right ankle, Olynyk has slowly worked his way back into the offense. That has frustrated Stevens, who told Olynyk to “shoot the ball!” after the 7-footer passed up an open jumper and proceeded to travel on a jerky drive to the basket.
Olynyk got the message, finishing with 12 of his 15 points in the second half in just 12 minutes, helping the Celtics unseat the mighty Memphis Grizzlies, 95-92, at TD Garden Wednesday night.
Olynyk attempted a team-high eight shots in the second half, including a 3-pointer with 4:35 left that sliced the Grizzlies’ lead to 82-81.
The Celtics consider Olynyk a potential cornerstone, but his first two seasons have been hindered by injuries and bouts with passiveness.
He needs to be more of a tough guy, using his size to gain a physical advantage. On Wednesday, two nights after being shoved into a stanchion in Miami by Hassan Whiteside, he faced off against Zach Randolph, who also appeared frustrated with Olynyk’s irritating defensive style.
Stevens likes irritating. He needs Olynyk to irk opposing players. He needs his second-year forward to be a threat.
“If he’s going to play against guys like [Marc] Gasol and Randolph, he’s got to continue to get stronger and as efficient as he can on the defensive end,” Stevens said. “But offensively he’s got to play to his strengths and that is stretching those guys [on the floor]. Now even that’s difficult because Gasol can really move his feet and Randolph can move his feet, but it’s still unique for [forwards and centers] to guard guys that are mostly perimeter oriented.”
In layman’s terms, Stevens wants Olynyk to use his perimeter shooting ability to pull less athletic centers and lane cloggers away from the basket, thus opening up the middle more for interior scoring. Olynyk’s importance to the offense is unquestioned. He just needs to realize it.
“The most important thing for me with Kelly is just assertiveness on the offensive end,” Stevens said. “I’m saying, shoot it. We’re going to get the whole crowd to start saying, shoot it. That’s our next step. Not before he shoots it. Not during the shot but if he doesn’t shoot it and travels, we’ve all got to say, shoot it.”
That transition to assertive scorer is going to take time and more urging. Olynyk doesn’t want to force things. It is not his nature to take over a game. He wants to play and make plays naturally, not overexert himself to score.
“You don’t want to go outside yourself and make things difficult, you just want to do it in the flow of the game,” he said. “A lot of people say it’s a great thing when the coaches want you to shoot every time or give you the green light, but being a guard growing up and the value of team, it’s a fine line. And sometimes I guess they want you to move the line up some. For me, it’s just trying find my balance and taking the opportunities to be aggressive.”
It seems the more confident Olynyk becomes the more aggressive he will become.
But he won’t gain that confidence if he doesn’t shoot or provide offense or consistently defend his opponent. Countless times this season, Olynyk has held the ball in a scoring position but looked to pass as if he’s the worst shooter on a pee-wee team.
The Celtics drafted the 7-footer because of his offensive skill set. They know how much big men who can shoot and dribble provide matchup problems.
It will take time for Olynyk to see that himself, but Wednesday was a good example of his impact when he is ambitious on the offensive end.