Kelly Olynyk is essentially a backup plan for the Boston Celtics at this point.
His time with the team might be done in just a matter of days with the Celtics looking get higher priced players, forcing them to let go of their reliable backup center.
A lot of fans loved him. A lot of fans hated him. In the end, most fans were the first to jump to their feet at the TD Garden when he was on one of those hot streaks where he dropped 12 points in a five minute stretch to chant “Kelly! Kelly!” but they were also the first to claim “he sucks” when a rebound went through his hands.
He had his ups and downs with the team when it’s all said and done, and here’s a timeline.
Forgettable draft night
Danny Ainge was aggressive on draft night in 2013 by trading up three spots to get Olynyk. He gave up the draft rights to 16th overall pick Lucas Nogueira and two future second round picks to pry Olynyk from the Dallas Mavericks, but people only really cared about this move for about an hour or so.
News broke early on in the second round that Boston had agreed to trade Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets, although the trade couldn’t become official until the second week of July due to some CBA rules. Not only did people no longer care about the Olynyk pick, but nobody really cared about any pick. Television coverage shifted from live draft coverage to a bunch of analysts breaking down this blockbuster trade…with the draft going on behind them. Anthony Bennett was the number one overall pick, clearly there was no real reason to be excited over the players getting drafted.
Doc Rivers had also been traded to the Los Angeles Clippers two days before the draft and the Celtics had gone though that night as a coachless team. This made the aggressive push to draft Olynyk the third biggest story in the eyes of fans with a coaching search ongoing.
For what it’s worth, the two future second round picks were both traded away by the Mavericks and eventually became Cleanthony Early and Russ Smith. Neither player appeared in an NBA during the 2016-17 season. Nogueira is currently with the Toronto Raptors and averaged a career high 4.4 PPG this past season, averaging 19.1 MPG over 57 appearances and six starts for the team.
Owning the Orlando Summer League
While the blockbuster trade and ongoing coaching search might have taken your attention away from the fact that Olynyk was actually drafted, summer ball served as a friendly reminder as to why Ainge was aggressive in trading up to get this guy.
He led the team with 18.0 PPG on 57.8% shooting in action at the Orlando Summer League and also reeled in a team high 7.8 RPG. His play alongside fellow big man Fab Melo – who averaged 6.2 PPG and 3.4 RPG coming off a disappointing rookie season – made it pretty obvious that Ainge needed to give up on him at that point.
The first start
Kelly Olynyk was expected to be a floor stretching big man when the Celtics drafted him, but he found himself 0-for-9 from beyond the arc over the first six regular season games of his career. Despite what seemed like false advertising, he was still playing well off the bench for a team that had limped out to a 2-4 start by averaging 8.2 PPG and 4.7 RPG in limited playing time. Brad Stevens was disappointed in the early play of starting center Vitor Faverani, so Olynyk got the first start of his career in that seventh game of the season and it came against the two time defending champions in LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
The game ended when Jeff Green beat the buzzer on a great shot from the corner – and an ever better pass from Gerald Wallace to get him the ball – but Olynyk was very solid in this game and showed his future as a guy who can contribute in a number of ways. He only scored seven points that night but the first three of his NBA career was included in that. The Canadian big man also reeled in a team high eight rebounds on the night while also adding four assists and a block in just 22 minutes.
Olynyk sprained his ankle in a late November game against the Indiana Pacers and it forced him to miss the next ten games. There were many things to like about the way he was playing early on as a rookie, but things took a turn for the worse when he returned from the injury. From the time Olynyk returned until the end of February, he averaged just 6.9 PPG and went through some shooting woes as well.
The numbers that Olynyk posted could even look a little worse if it wasn’t for a few random performances over this 34 game stretch that help drag the numbers up a bit. He scattered two 25 point outings and a 21 point outing into the mix while also scoring 14 and 15 points respectfully in the two games heading into the All-Star break. Olynyk did play in the Rising Stars Challenge alongside teammate Jared Sullinger that winter, but each of their draft classes was pretty bad so the game wasn’t that difficult to make. Outside of the big scoring nights, things weren’t pretty to watch as both Olynyk and the Celtics struggled night in and night out.
Late season success
March rolled around and things began to click for Olynyk. He shot 51.3% from the floor and 44.4% from beyond the arc over the final 23 games of the season while also adding 6.3 RPG on top of his improved scoring. This actually began to frustrate fans a bit as Boston went 2-2 down the stretch of the season and the big focus had become lottery position. Only of his better performances in this stretch of good basketball was a 25 point, 12 rebound, three assist showing in a win against the Cleveland Cavaliers – a team that was right around them in the standings – in the third to last game of the season.
The very weak draft class did help his cause a bit, but Olynyk was named Second Team All-Rookie at the end of the season, finishing the year with averages of 8.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG and 1.6 APG. He was actually pretty close to First Team honors, finishing with the most votes among all players who took home Second Team honors.
Some success as starting center
Brad Stevens tabbed Olynyk as the team’s starting center to open the 2014-15 season and his personal numbers were very solid. The former Gonzaga star averaged 11.2 PPG on 51.9% shooting and a 42.4% clip from downtown to go along with 5.8 RPG through 13 starts, but that’s all he got on the season.
Boston went 4-6 to open the season and this included wins against presumed playoff contenders such as the Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers. This was actually a pleasant surprise to a number of fans who suffered through a 25-57 record the year before. But the Celtics went into a three game skid right after that and Olynyk’s strong play from the first ten games came to a halt as he shot just 29.0% from the field over those games. Stevens has had a very short leash with his entire roster at times during his time in Boston, and this became an example of that as Tyler Zeller was inserted into the starting lineup after that.
Continues strong play off the bench
Moving Olynyk to the bench immediately looked like a genius move by Stevens because Zeller took off – eventually finishing the regular season as the Celtics leader in win shares – and Olynyk also didn’t see any sort of decline in his own production as well. He averaged 11.0 PPG on 50.1% shooting over the next 27 games and 5.2 RPG. These were almost identical to his averages as a starter early on in the season, but Olynyk was averaging almost four less minutes per game in his bench role.
This all ended though in late January when he turned his ankle once again and had to miss time due to a sprain, keeping him out of the next 18 games.
Helps piece team together after injury
Many people credit the Isaiah Thomas trade as the turning point for the Celtics during the 2014-15 campaign, and they’re not wrong for the most part. There’s no question that bringing in Thomas changed the dynamic of the team as they went 20-11 after the deadline to force their way into the postseason. But they didn’t just explode out of the gate after Ainge struck that deal. Boston still got off to a slow start with Thomas, posting a 3-5 mark over their first eight games out of the break.
Olynyk returned from his injury in early March and really helped piece the Celtics together as they went 17-6 after he rejoined the lineup. While the massive offensive upgrade that Thomas brought to New England played the biggest role in the turnaround, it was clear that getting Olynyk back provided that one more boost that eventually helped the Celtics slip into the playoffs as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Eye Game
Evan Turner had three triple-doubles after the All-Star break in 2015 and it was usually the big point of discussion coming out of the game. But on April 1st, Olynyk did something that made you completely forget about Turner’s 13 point, 12, assist and 11 rebound performance in what was a key win over the Indiana Pacers.
Olynyk took an elbow to the face from teammate Shavlik Randolph and it produced some ugly swelling around his left eye. There’s no way he could have seen out of it but that didn’t stop him for suiting up for what was a very important game seeing as the Celtics sat just one game ahead of Indiana at the time for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. But not only did he play, he played well and scored 19 points on the night and that was good enough to match Tyler Zeller for a team high on the evening.
Limited playoff minutes in sweep vs. Cavs
Olynyk averaged just 13.3 MPG as the Celtics were swept by the Cavaliers in round one of the 2015 NBA Playoffs and limiting him really seemed like an odd decision from Stevens. The Canadian big man did struggle defensively and on the glass, but throughout the series it became pretty clear that what Boston needed was some extra offense; this could have been provided by Olynyk.
He actually played 18 minutes in game one and scored 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting. The poor defense and rebounding were evident, but it was also the only game of the entire series in which the Celtics scored triple-digits. Thomas had his offensive issues in the series as well – shooting just 33.3% from the field and 16.7% from beyond the arc – so if he was going to have trouble scoring, it just wasn’t a good look to limit one of your better offensive role players on top of that.
Despite playing limited minutes, he still found the time to rip Kevin Love’s arm clean off and take him out for the remainder of the postseason. This earned him a one game suspension, which was served on opening night the next season.
Strong showing in Olympic qualifiers
Canada seems to send more and more players to the NBA each season and they showed up to a qualifying tournament for the 2016 Rio Olympics in September of 2015 with high expectations. These expectations didn’t really pan out as the team fell short of earning an Olympic bid, leaving them with one final shot to qualify in early July of 2016.
But team disappointment aside, Celtics fans were pleased to see Olynyk stand out as one of the best players on his team. Playing a grueling ten games in 12 days, he averaged 11.9 PPG on 60.4% shooting to go along with 7.5 RPG and 2.3 APG. Having to go from that tournament right to training camp was probably exhausting for him as Olynyk wound up struggling through the entire preseason that fall.
Deep frontcourt cuts into everyone’s playing time
It was almost impossible to predict what the Celtics frontcourt rotation would be at the beginning of Olynyk’s third season. Ainge went out that summer and traded for David Lee while also signing Amir Johnson to add some size to Boston’s lineup while having a healthy Jared Sullinger in the mix only give them more bodies on top of Olynyk and Zeller.
Playing four of these five guys wasn’t hard and the Celtics won on opening night with Olynyk suspended for murdering Kevin Love, but starting in game two Stevens tried to fit them all in and it was a disaster as the team went right into a three game losing streak. After averaging over 20 minutes per game in each of his first two seasons, Olynyk saw just 13.4 MPG of action during that three game losing steak. Things finally changed as Zeller was quickly phased out. He would get back into the rotation during the second half of the season after Lee played himself out of the rotation and was eventually bought out of his contract.
Lighting it up from three
The three game losing streak was snapped once Stevens realized he couldn’t play all five big men at once and Olynyk came out strong that next night, scoring 19 points in 27 minutes to go along with seven rebounds, four assists, four steals and a block as Boston beat the Washington Wizards by 20 points. While he didn’t give them those numbers every night, Olynyk would enter the best shooting stretch of his career as he reclaimed that productive bench role that he had thrived in a year earlier.
He would go on to shoot 43.3% from beyond the arc over the next 51 games and he was posting the best plus/minus numbers on the team by a wide margin. Olynyk shot an insane 48.0% from three over the final 15 games of that stretch, averaging 12.1 PPG and helping his team to a 12-3 record. Everybody around him was clicking too and Boston was one of the hottest teams in basketball. Unfortunately, this all came to an end for Olynyk when he hurt his shoulder in a game against the Los Angeles Clippers and was forced to miss the next 12 games.
Post-injury struggles, Episode II
It was pretty clear that Olynyk wasn’t fully healthy when he came back for the final 15 games of the regular season. You knew he needed shoulder surgery to actually fix the issue, but he would wind up missing less games just by fighting through the pain and going under the knife in the offseason instead.
He still found a way to average 9.3 PPG after returning from injury, but this was because that number ballooned by a few really good performances that seemed to come about randomly. This included a very strong 16 point, seven rebound showing against the Milwaukee Bucks on a night where he didn’t miss a single shot from the field with four games to go in the regular season. That game set Boston up to finish with the third seed in the Eastern Conference but they wound up losing their next two games and eventually finished in a four way tie for the third spot; the tiebreaker put them in fifth.
Despite his shooting struggles down the stretch of the regular season, he still finished as the first Celtic since Ray Allen to shoot at least 40% from three over an entire season.
No show in playoffs with shoulder acting up
Brad Stevens actually tried to give Olynyk proper minutes in the postseason this time around, but he was pulled at halftime in game one with his shoulder acting up and it forced him to miss the next two games. He played in games four, five and six of the series but the minutes were limited as he looked nothing like his regular season self.
Boston really could have used him. Avery Bradley also got hurt in game one and Jae Crowder looked very hobbled while playing through an ankle injury. It really seemed like the Celtics could have made a run in that postseason but it just wasn’t meant to be.
Team Canada still had one final opportunity to qualify for the Rio Olympics and Olynyk wasn’t healthy enough to play in it, but with some rest he would have been able to make the trip to Brazil to represent his country if the team did earn the chance to go. This would have also meant that Olynyk pushed his surgery back another two months and it would have forced him to miss a good chunk of the regular season. Luckily, Ainge was understanding in Olynyk’s desire to represent his country and the decision on when to go under the knife was left up to him.
Canada did not qualify for the Olympics and there was no more need for Olynyk to put off surgery. Olynyk was unable to do any basketball activities over the summer and he just a spectator during most of training camp. He began to workout once again right as the final preseason games were wrapping up, putting him a few weeks behind the rest of the team. The Toronto native missed the first six regular season games before finally returning to action. Despite being injured at the start of the season, Olynyk went on to have his healthiest season yet by appearing in a career high 75 games.
Post-injury struggles, Episode III
This is the third time that point on this timeline has been titled “post-injury struggles” and the disappointing thing is that this one is literally for the same shoulder injury that he struggled to bounce back from the season before. It’s actually pretty easy to understand why he wouldn’t play that well coming off of this one though because he didn’t workout in the summer, practice with the team in training camp or play in any preseason games. There was a plan in place to let him practice with the team a bit more before returning but the team started struggling when Al Horford went out of the lineup with an early season concussion so basically the day doctors cleared him to practice, Stevens started putting him in games.
Olynyk was averaging just 7.6 PPG on 43.9% shooting and a 32.6% mark from three through 30 appearances that season. 30 games is a very sizable chunk that you can judge off of and it seemed like this was going to be a down year for the roleplaying center after giving him time to get readjusted from that surgery. The scariest thing was that things weren’t even getting better as that stretch went on. Olynyk averaged only 6.8 PPG on 39.3% shooting from the floor and 25.6% from three over the final 15 games of that period.
Fantastic finish to regular season
Things were looking pretty bad there for awhile, but Olynyk recovered and became a big part of the Celtics chance for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. He shot 55.5% from the field over the final 45 regular season games, helping him finish with a regular season shooting percentage above 50% for the first time in his four year career. His averages of 10.0 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 2.0 APG while playing only 20.7 MPG during this stretch made him a very well rounded backup center. Olynyk would also finish the regular season with more rebounds per possession than fellow big men Al Horford, Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko.
Solid play in series victory over Bulls
Kelly Olynyk was actually one of the bright spots for the Celtics in games one and two against the Chicago Bulls as they became just the second top seed to ever fall down 2-0 against an eighth seeded opponent. The reserve big man did his part by averaging 9.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 5.0 APG, 1.5 SPG and 1.5 BPG in the two losses. Those numbers really aren’t anything special, but it’s about what you’d expect out of him after these past four years.
The rest of the team stepped up around him and they went on to win the next four games and knock off Chicago. Olynyk shot 50.0% from the floor in the series to go along with averages of 8.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.0 SPG and 1.0 BPG. His 14 point, five rebound showing in a critical game five was arguably his biggest performance of the series as he led the team with a +14 rating that night.
Sparks epic comeback in game one against Wizards
Boston put themselves in a 16-0 hole against the Washington Wizards in game one of the Eastern Conference Semifinals and they would eventually come all the way back and win by 12 points. As a bench player, Olynyk wasn’t on the floor for the beginning of that game but he still wound up finishing the first quarter with 10 points to his name.
He might have only finished the game with 12 points, but that fabulous first quarter was a great source of damage control as he came off the bench and really set the tone for a giant push over the final three quarters.
Kelly vs. Kelly
There weren’t many good things to say about Olynyk in games two thorough six of this series, but he still kept his name in the news after Kelly Oubre body slammed him in game three. Oubre was suspended for one game because of this and the series as the two teams continued to trade home wins.
A confident Isaiah Thomas went to the podium after a crushing one point loss in game six and proclaimed that he was excited for game seven because “that’s where legends are born.”
He was probably thinking more along the lines of sliding himself into legendary status with a strong performance, but his seven foot teammate had other plans. Thomas did fine and all by scoring 29 points and adding 12 assists, but the story coming out of the game was how Kelly Freakin’ Olynyk save Boston’s season by dropping 17 points fourth quarter points to help push the Celtics over the top.
Winning that game is the single biggest moment of the Brad Stevens tenure so far and Olynyk’s fingerprints are all over it. Not many people would have predicted that when he was drafted four years ago. Hell, nobody would have predicted it when the fourth quarter of that game even began.
Rough start to Eastern Conference Finals
He scored a grand total of two points on 1-for-8 shooting between the first two games of the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals while only grabbing three rebounds and recording just one assist. This is clearly awful, but the losses were two blowouts and there wasn’t really any guy who you could look at and be like “at least he did his part.”
Solid finish to ECF as C’s fizzle out
The final three games of the Eastern Conference Finals weren’t as bad as the first two. This goes for Olynyk as the rest of his teammates as well. He scored on 5-for-8 shooting in game three as the Celtics shocked the world and handed Cleveland their first loss of the 2017 playoffs and he dropped another 15 points on 7-for-14 shooting in a hard fought game four loss.