BOSTON -- The game has slowed down for Boston Celtics rookie Kelly Olynyk, and his confidence has grown. The latter part was evidenced last week when Olynyk turned to greet a large pack of reporters waiting near his locker while wearing a spectacular tie-dyed version of the popular Three Wolf Moon shirt.
That's a bold look for a rookie, but Olynyk pulled it off. It helps that he has been turning heads on the court lately as well. In three games this month since returning from a toe sprain, Olynyk is averaging 16.7 points, 6 rebounds and 1.7 assists over a mere 20.7 minutes per game. He's shooting 58.6 percent from the floor and teaming with Jared Sullinger to power Boston's second unit.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens is guarded with his praise of players, often prefacing compliments with suggestions that the player in focus has plenty of room for growth. And he surely feels that way about Olynyk. But Stevens' words lately have been telling about the rookie's progress.
After Friday's win over the Brooklyn Nets, Stevens said, "Kelly Olynyk is playing great." At practice the next day while discussing the progress of the team's younger players, he noted, "I think Kelly is the one to point to, for sure."
The Celtics moved up three spots to land Olynyk with the 13th pick in June's draft. He shined in the Orlando Summer League, setting rookie expectations unfairly high. Like most first-year players, it took time for Olynyk to get acclimated to the speed of the NBA game, and it didn't help that he endured a severe ankle sprain early in the season.
But Olynyk started coming on strong just before the All-Star break and had a solid outing in that weekend's Rising Stars Challenge. In the month's span since Feb. 10, Olynyk has averaged 12.8 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 22.8 minutes per game over nine appearances. He is shooting 50 percent from the floor in that span and 40.9 percent beyond the 3-point arc.
"I think it's a little bit of everything, just settling down, getting comfortable, getting that mindset, attacking," Olynyk said. "And just realizing that that's what I need to do to help the team and help that second unit."
Dig deeper into the numbers, and Olynyk's play really pops. According to Synergy Sports data, Olynyk is averaging 1.027 points per play over his past nine games. For comparison, Kevin Durant averages 1.117 points per play; Brandon Bass tops the Celtics' regulars at 0.961 points per play. Olynyk isn't seeing heavy minutes, but he has been extremely efficient when he's out there. He's less hesitant with his shot, a product of being a focal point on a second unit that encourages him and Sullinger to be go-to weapons.