WALTHAM, Mass. -- Sometimes, all a struggling shooter needs is to see a ball go in the basket. So, with Kelly Olynyk hoop-less in consecutive games, the Boston Celtics decided that they would close out Friday's shootaround by having Olynyk make the final shot.
He did, hitting a corner 3-pointer to close the team's afternoon session, then went out and scored a season-high 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting with seven rebounds, four assists, four steals, and a block in Boston's inspired 118-98 triumph over the Washington Wizards.
"We needed him to do that. He’s been struggling a little bit," teammate Jae Crowder said of Olynyk, who had missed all eight shots he took in games against the Spurs and Pacers and sat out the entire second half against Indiana. "We broke shootaround [Friday] with him making a shot -- that’s the way we ended shootaround [Friday] with him making the corner 3. So it rolled over into the game. Just trying to get his confidence where it needs to be."
For his part, Olynyk pleaded ignorance to Boston's shooting brainwash but couldn't argue with the results.
"Whatever [Crowder] did, it worked," said Olynyk. When it was suggested he should consider taking the final shot at shootaround more often, Olynyk replied, "Maybe I should."
The Celtics are a better team when Olynyk is on the floor and they're a much better team when Olynyk is aggressive on offense and making his shots. The third-year forward/center has established himself as the sort of advanced-stats darling whose impact isn't always obvious with the eye test but is hammered home by the stat sheet.
Case in point: The Celtics were plus-226 in plus/minus last season when Olynyk was on the floor (1,424 minutes) and minus-213 when he was off (2,552 minutes). Sure, plus/minus is a flawed stat, but that trend has continued this season as Boston is plus-33 in Olynyk's 67 minutes of floor time and minus-16 in the 173 minutes he's been on the bench (or suspended).
What's more interesting this season is that while the 7-foot Olynyk is typically regarded as an offensive player -- one who stretches the floor and forces opposing bigs to guard him beyond the 3-point arc -- it's Boston's defensive numbers with him on the floor that are most eye-popping (albeit in a small sample).
Olynyk is tops on the team with the Celtics allowing only 71.7 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court. That's 23.5 points better than Boston's season average of 92.5 (which ranked seventh in the NBA entering Sunday's play). It's also 11 points better than the next closest teammate and 30 points better than someone like Amir Johnson (typically another advanced stats darling and one of the most common big-man pairing with Olynyk this season).
Watch Olynyk and you don't think lockdown defender. And yet the league's player-tracking data suggests a Marc Gasol-like dominance (OK, that's some early season hyperbole). But, according to the NBA's player tracking data, opponents are shooting a mere 35.3 percent (12 for 34) against Olynyk and he has four blocks (second on the team behind only Jared Sullinger). What's more, Olynyk had those four steals against the Wizards and is tied for third on the team in swipes this season (7) behind only Crowder (15) and Isaiah Thomas (10).
How does coach Brad Stevens explain Boston's defensive dominance with Olynyk?
"I think our defense has been pretty good generally, and he’s done a pretty good job of being in the right position," said Stevens. "We’ve talked about that. He’s got a good feel for positioning. He’s done a pretty good job of getting out to shooters when he’s guarding shooters. He hasn’t been at the 5 a lot, but when he’s been at the 5 we’ve been pretty active defensively in times where we’ve played a little bit smaller. So there’s a lot of factors that go into that.
"I think that for one person to be good, or have good numbers defensively, it’s reliant on the other four people playing good defense with him. But that’s a positive thing for sure."
Maybe Olynyk's stats shouldn't surprise us too much. Among regulars during Boston's second-half surge to the playoffs last season, Olynyk owned the best defensive rating on the team (91.1).
Asked about the reasons for the team's quality defense when he's on the floor, Olynyk said: "I don't know. It's not something you can really try and go and do, I don't think. You've just got to play the way you’re playing. I don’t know. You've just got to play hard on both ends of the floor and try to make your teammates better on both ends of the floor."
The challenge now is getting Olynyk to maintain his offensive aggression, because his floor-spacing abilities really open things up, especially when paired with the likes of Thomas off the bench.
"I think that the more that he can [be aggressive], the better he is," said Stevens. "He’s a very talented player and we need him to shoot it well for us to be a good team. We don’t need him to be the greatest shooter ever, but we need him to be a threat."
Said Sullinger: "[Olynyk] gave us a little bit of everything [Friday] -- rebounding, scoring, playmaking, and he had four steals... He was very active, high hands, active as hell. It’s something he can build on. Kelly is a guy with runs, and once he gets like this, it’s kinda hard to stop him. So hopefully it carries over."
And if it doesn't, the Celtics can always try to get him going again at the team's next shootaround.