Yes, it’s summer league, which is the caveat that should just be understood as we get into any of these pieces. But Kelly Olynyk looked pretty good in his first game with “Boston” on his chest. After nearly 27 minutes of play, the scouting report on him looked pretty accurate.
He poured in a game-high 25 points in Boston’s 95-88 loss to the host Orlando Magic. He only missed three of his 12 shots, and two of those misses were from 3. He displayed a nice variety to his offensive game, hitting two from long-range, putting the ball on the floor and finishing at the rim, and even getting himself out of trouble on the post. He also hit all five of his free throws.
“I thought he was really good,” said new Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, who watched the game sitting next to Danny Ainge on the other side of the floor. “He made plays off the bounce, he shot it freely which is really a positive thing.”
But not freely enough for the Celtics.
“He just needs to be more aggressive,” said Jared Sullinger, who played the role of coach here as he continues his recovery from back surgery. “Every time he touches it he should look to score. Open shots, he needs to shoot them. Sometimes he needs to shoot contested shots. I just think he needs to be more aggressive and more assertive and let these guys know he came to play.”
“He’s gotta shoot when he’s open,” Summer League coach Jay Larranaga added. “He had some open shots that he turned down. He’s such an unselfish player and we just keep encouraging him to shoot when he’s open.”
Call it part of the learning process for Olynyk, who spent his college career in a system that valued ball movement, and who is just a naturally unselfish kind of guy.
““It’s tough because I think I’m a bit of an unselfish player at times. Some times at fault so, they’re telling me to shoot the ball when I’m open and don’t be worried so I gotta really work on that. Hopefully after a couple of days here I can get in that mode.”
As impressive as Olynyk was, he still had problems out there. He had 6 fouls (you can’t foul out in Summer League) and 5 turnovers. He also struggled defensively, often getting knocked around a bit trying to defend other post players. On one possession, Andrew Nicholson pounded into him three straight times, knocking Olynyk further back towards the basket. On the last pop, Olynyk took a shot to the chops, which was a not-so-subtle introduction to a new style of defense.
“I told him don’t take it with your chest no more,” Sullinger said. “In college you gotta take it with your chest now you can use your forearm and a hand, but it’s a learning process for him.”
But we knew coming into this that the Celtics first-round pick was going to be more polished offensively than he was defensively. One skill he brings to the table is one that he’s especially focused on since leaving Gonzaga: the 3 point shot.
“It’s been a focus, especially after I exited college and getting ready for workouts and the draft because it’s such an asset for a team to have that,” said Olynyk. “To have a big that can stretch the floor opens up driving lanes for guards. It makes it tough on defenses. It’s something I’m focusing on. I’m by no means where I need to be I still need to improve but I’m going to still keep working on that.”
It’s only the first day of summer league, but when you’re looking at a team that’s been stripped of so much, it’s hard not to overreact. Olynyk’s offensive game looks smooth, and coaches I spoke to during the game say his offense is NBA ready right now. The Celtics are already impressed with Olynyk’s basketball IQ, and Larranaga is publicly displaying a trust him this week that encourages him to let loose.
“He needs to know we have the utmost confidence in whatever decision he makes because he’s such a smart basketball player.”