There is a confidence in Kelly Olynyk not seen the past two seasons. He dribbles as if there is a destination, not aimlessly waiting for teammates to provide a bailout.
It seems Olynyk has played himself into the Celtics’ rotation heading into Wednesday night’s season opener against the Philadelphia 76ers at TD Garden.
Olynyk finished the exhibition season shooting a solid 46.2 percent from the field and averaging five rebounds as the Celtics went 6-1. It was a pivotal offseason for Olynyk, who spend a portion of the summer with the Canadian national team.
In 10 games with Team Canada at the FIBA Americas qualifying tournament in Mexico City, Olynyk averaged 11.9 points and shot 55 percent from the field.
It was a welcome resurgence for the third-year NBA player, whose 2014-15 season ended in controversy when he got tangled up with the Cavaliers’ Kevin Love while chasing a rebound during a first-round playoff series, causing Love to separate his shoulder and miss the remainder of the postseason.
Olynyk has gained a swagger he lacked the past two seasons.
“I’m real comfortable,” he said. “You’re trying to get better each year. You’re always trying to get on that upper trend, that’s the goal for everything. Not only for myself but for the team.”
The Celtics allowed Olynyk to pass on summer league to play for Team Canada, and it ended up being a worthwhile experience for him. In the semifinal loss to Venezuela, Olynyk had 34 points and 13 rebounds.
“It’s just experience for me; the more you play the better you’re going to get,” he said. “You can definitely say the game is slowing down. You can see plays happen before they happen. It’s definitely more enjoyable the more you can do, the more you can do for your team.
“It’s like that in life, too. If you’re a chef and you can only make macaroni and cheese, I don’t think it would be that fun. I have a little more in my repertoire.”
Olynyk likely is to come off the bench, replacing David Lee or Tyler Zeller in the frontcourt. The Celtics have a bunch of similarly talented players of similar ages, making competition stiff for rotation slots.
“I think it’s a great group,” Olynyk said. “We have a group of guys that like playing together. It’s a pretty even playing field, and the good thing is we’re deep and you know the next guy coming in for you is going to do a good job, and that’s huge in a team setting.”
Former NBA head coaches Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson, now analysts for ABC, gave their thoughts on the chances of the Celtics taking the next step and becoming Eastern Conference contenders.
“Brad Stevens, from Day One, has done a very good job of creating a culture, Danny Ainge has done a very good job of adding to the mix, continuing to be aggressive, acquiring talent,” Jackson said. “He certainly did that in the offseason. When you talk about the caliber and quality of big men that they have, they certainly have tremendous depth. Last year was a great experience getting into the playoffs, tasting it. It will only make that team better.
“They have certainly done that with a successful preseason. And now those guys can build. I expect them to be truly in the mix.’’
Said Van Gundy: “I really like what the Celtics have done. I like what they did from midseason on last year. The acquisition of Isaiah Thomas, coming off the bench, he is as good of a player as you could want with his dynamic ability to score and create offense. I think Jae Crowder, with more opportunity, showed he’s a really capable NBA player. I think Amir Johnson adds defense to their frontcourt. I love their defensive toughness with Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, and Jae Crowder to start games. That sets such a tone when it comes to playing winning basketball. Brad Stevens is an outstanding coach and if all goes well they’ll be [at] 45 to 47 wins.”
Jones, Walden waived
As expected, the Celtics waived Perry Jones and Corey Walden to get their roster to 15 players. Jones, a former first-round pick, was acquired this past summer from the Thunder with the hopes of resurrecting his career. But he didn’t make a splash in training camp and the Celtics’ brass would have had to trade a guaranteed contract or waive another player to make roster space. Unless Jones is claimed off waivers, the Celtics are responsible for the $2.038 million he’s due this season. Walden, a rookie from Eastern Kentucky, is expected to report to NBADL Maine.