How Kelly Olynyk’s Basketball Intelligence Has Him Peaking As A Starter
Feature // 10 months ago
By: Greg Sylvander
You, just like every other Heat fan, reacted pretty much the same way when you heard Miami signed former Boston Celtic forward Kelly Olynyk to a four-year, $50 million dollar contract. He had a slight reputation as a dirty player, he was a Celtic, and he seemed out of shape – not a Miami Heat player on the surface.
You could spot a Heat homer a mile away by his level of acceptance of the Olynyk contract back when it was signed, considering we thought we knew what we were getting.
The Heat had center Hassan Whiteside signed to a max contract and had just drafted center Bam Adebayo. The last position of need was a slow-footed, heady, dirty-work big man, even if he did have a nice shooting touch.
Besides, Heat fans had “white big man with long hair” PTSD from the Josh McRoberts experience.
The Heat front office was slandered in loud ways.
Fast forward to the last two months of play and you’ll find Olynyk earning every cent of that contract blossoming as the Heat’s starting power forward.
He is playing so well, Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra can’t keep him off the floor. So well in fact, that the franchise is embracing the reality of a small luxury tax bill as they watch Olynyk maximize himself and others in key ways down the stretch.
We saw a slow, goofy center who was duplicating positions. The Heat saw a highly-skilled, versatile, smart big man who was missing a little bit of that Heat Culture strength and conditioning. They saw the passing, the smart plays, the potential to develop as a ball handler. The evolution of his game as a scorer and shooter. Now, his Heat teammates are seeing it and gushing over it.
Heat guard Josh Richardson recognizes the versatility of Olynyk’s skill set.
“Kelly has an offensive arsenal that’s pretty rare for a guy his size,” Richardson told Miami Heat Beat. “From being able to shoot threes off balance to [keeping] the ball off of hand offs [and] being able to score on isolations, Kelly definitely does a lot of good things for us on the court.”
For Heat forward Rodney McGruder, who tends to rely on others to help him find space to generate his looks, Olynyk has proven to be particularly helpful.
“He spaces the floor. He’s unpredictable too with what he does,” McGruder told Miami Heat Beat. “He can shoot the ball, he drives, he makes the right reads when he doesn’t have his shot. His offensive IQ is big time.”
Basketball IQ was the overarching vibe of every Heat player’s comments when asked about Olynyk.
“He makes the game super simple,” Heat guard Justise Winslow told Miami Heat Beat. “Me and him, in pick and rolls, we slow down and we get exactly what we want.
Obviously he’s a big who can shoot the ball, so that helps as well,” Winslow said. “He’s super-efficient in the post when he gets switches. He’s skilled, as well. I don’t want to take anything away from his skill set, but his IQ and attention to detail are off the charts.”
Olynyk’s season was not always heading off the charts. It appeared as if he was out of the rotation when Olynyk caught a DNP-CD against his former Celtics in a loss in late January. The sixth-year power forward seemed to let a stretch of subpar defensive play impact his offensive effectiveness.
Heat veteran Udonis Haslem admits that Olynyk “struggled more so defensively than anything” but seems more confident on the floor now.
“It started to rattle him for a bit on the offensive end,” Haslem told Miami Heat Beat. “As he is starting to get more in detail with the defensive coverages, it’s allowed him to be on the floor more. More time on the floor allows you to have more of a rhythm. More of a rhythm for a guy like KO takes us to another level.”
For Haslem, he sees what many should’ve seen all along: Olynyk is a walking mismatch.
“Because of the way he stretches the floor, shoots the ball and his size, you can’t switch pick and rolls with him,” he said. “Most shooters, you can switch, but [with] KO, if you switch, we go to the post. He gives us a lot of different options offensively and a lot of different dynamics to do things with the ball.”
Olynyk is proving to be the binding agent that makes almost any lineup featuring Richardson, Winslow, Heat center Bam Adebayo, and Heat forward Derrick Jones Jr excel. Olynyk’s style of play is literally the perfect blend of skills to maximize the potential of the Heat’s young players. He is arguably one of the Heat’s most important players.
For Jones Jr, Olynyk’s offensive versatility makes the game easier.
“Kelly is a nice fit for our team because he’s a mismatch player,” Jones Jr told Miami Heat Beat. “[If] you try to put a guard on him, he can score in the post. If you help too much, he can knock down a three, consistently. That helps me, J-Rich, and Justise because we are downhill players. We can shoot, but we are more effective when we get to the rim with our finishing, playmaking, and getting other players involved.”
Olynyk understands his role is to fill in whatever gaps are needed. His presence allows his teammates to be the best versions of themselves.
“Lots of versatility, lots of movement, ball movement, body movement,” Olynyk told Miami Heat Beat. “[I try] to get the ball side to side and get everybody touches, make sure everybody is feeling comfortable and in rhythm.”
Off the ball?
“Just trying to space the floor, let the attackers attack, let the guards get in the paint and be themselves. And try not to clog things up too much,” Olynyk said.
We’ve been distraught over the Heat trying to execute two plans at once. Olynyk’s versatility has made it possible for them to walk those lines. His blend of shooting, post scoring, and playmaking not only helps maximize the young guys, it also makes the Heat a more competitive team.
Virtually every team stat suggests the Heat are a better team with Olynyk on the floor. But this is about more than just metrics.
This is also about putting the young players that matter most for Miami’s future alongside a player with as complimentary a skill set as you could ask for.
Whether this is about winning or maximizing the Heat’s young players for a look toward the future, Olynyk should be a priority for playing time going forward.