The NBA announced Wednesday that the annual Rising Stars Challenge will shift to a USA vs. the World format for this year's event at All-Star Weekend in New York. The league's assistant coaches will choose 10 players for each team from the eligible field of rookies and sophomores.
Even with a deep group of young, international big men in the league (OKC's Steven Adams and Chicago's Nikola Mirotic jump immediately to mind), it would seem a good bet that Boston Celtics second-year forward/center (and Canada native) Kelly Olynyk is in line for a return to the youth showcase.
So this seems like a good time to dive into the numbers and evaluate Olynyk's progress as we near the midway point of his sophomore campaign.
What stands out, from a big-picture perspective, is that even after shifting to a reserve role early in the 2014-15 season, Olynyk has shown progress in most major areas. As would be expected, his scoring is up (11.3 points per game) while playing 4 ½ more minutes (24.6 per game). He's shooting a higher percentage overall (50.9 percent) especially inside the arc (57.3 percent this season, up from 50 percent last year).
And yet it still feels like the Celtics have only scratched the surface with Olynyk, and there is a lingering curiosity about what he could do in even heavier minutes. Part of that is on Olynyk, who remains a work in progress on the defensive end and whose foul trouble has sometimes limited how long he has stayed on the floor.
Olynyk has made solid progress on the offensive end. His field goal percentage at the rim is up 5 percent from last season to 68.8 percent. Olynyk looks more confident going at the basket and he's even raised some eyebrows by finishing with loud dunks in transition.
Make no mistake, he's still a very reluctant post player. Synergy Sports data has Olynyk finishing only 22 post possessions this year, or the same number as point guard Evan Turner. Stevens has acknowledged that part of Olynyk's long-term development will be learning how to be a post presence (and gaining the confidence to go to that little hook shot he's worked on). As the team is constructed now, the Celtics seem content to let Olynyk play face-up and use his passing skills to distribute from the perimeter. His turnover percentage is down for the year, though he's been prone to spikes.
One thing is clear: Olynyk has added muscle to his frame as the team starts to shape his body with a goal of allowing him to bang with opposing 7-footers, especially when he's playing both big-man spots while coming off the bench.
Not surprisingly, Olynyk is tossing more 3s this season (29.3 percent of his attempts) and his 3-point percentage is up slightly (35.4 percent). He's grown a bit less hesitant to fire away, and that will almost certainly remain a point of emphasis given how skilled he is at that end of the court. As the Celtics are currently comprised, Olynyk could further emerge as a key offensive presence on a team that lacks go-to options after trading away the likes of Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green.
Olynyk's impact can be seen in the on/off court numbers. Boston's offensive rating dives 8.8 points per 100 possessions when he's off the court, while its defensive rating barely moves. The Celtics' offense is simply more crisp when Olynyk is on the floor.
The negatives? Olynyk's rebound rate is down this season and he's still struggling to be a consistent defender. Synergy Sports data has Olynyk defending the second-most possessions on the team -- a surprising fact in and of itself when you consider his bench role -- and allowing 0.905 points per play overall, which ranks him in the 35th percentile among all league players. Teams are not afraid to go at Olynyk, especially when they can exploit a matchup in the post.
There are more encouraging numbers in regards to Olynyk's defense, however. The team's defensive rating with him on the floor is essentially in lockstep with Boston's season average, suggesting he's not having a particularly negative impact. But maybe most interesting is that the league's player tracking data suggests that opponents shoot only 0.9 percent higher than their season averages against Olynyk. He's holding those opponents to 59.4 percent shooting inside of 6 feet, which is only 0.3 percent above those players' averages. For numbers inside of 10 feet -- and 2-pointers overall -- Olynyk is holding players below their season marks.
If Olynyk can continue to develop on the defensive end and limit his fouls, we'd be interested to see how his numbers trend with increased playing time. Even with all the roster shuffling, his minutes sit at a mere 21.2 per game in January. He hasn't played more than 30 minutes in a game since Rondo was dealt away.
Olynyk is likely to get a chance to strut his stuff at the Rising Stars game next month in Brooklyn. Maybe he'll have rookie Marcus Smart alongside, but otherwise he might be the only real Boston-related focus on All-Star weekend.
The question is whether Olynyk can show the sort of progress that will encourage coach Brad Stevens and his staff to really turn him loose in the second half of the season.