BOSTON – As the 2013-14 Celtics season finally comes to its faithful end, finding bright spots on this roster towards the tail end of this rebuilding campaign could be described as a little bit challenging at best.
Rajon Rondo has shown flashes of his old self, but his overall shooting numbers have dropped off as might be expected after an ACL injury. Avery Bradley’s offensive gains have become sidetracked nearly every other week with new injuries constantly cropping up. Jeff Green has been consistently inconsistent. Phil Pressey has done an admirable job of filling in for Rondo at times, but a quick look at his season shooting percentage (31 percent) reminds you how much work he still has to do to become a more complete player.
Despite the uneven play of the rest of the roster, there is one name that should have Brad Stevens smiling heading into the offseason: Kelly Olynyk.
The seven-footer out of Gonzaga provided the blueprint this year of just exactly why you must be patient when judging rookies. During the first few months of the season, Olynyk showed telltale signs of being a bust after Boston traded up to select him with the 13th overall pick in last year’s draft.
Up until the All-Star Break, Olynyk was shooting just 42 percent from the field and 28.3 percent from 3-point range, not exactly the kind of efficiency you would want from a sharpshooting big man. Overall in first half of the season, Olynyk averaged 6.9 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. There were flashes of promise, but on most nights Olynyk was hesitant to take the open shot and was lost on the defensive end as well.
Over the past couple months it has become apparent that the rookie has turned a corner. The NBA game has slowed down for Olynyk and his production has seen a considerable jump in all regions of the box score.
Offensively, Olynyk has been one of Boston’s most productive players in his limited time off the bench since the All-Star Break, bumping his shooting averages to 50.2 percent from the field and a staggering 44.2 percent from 3-point range. Olynyk has averaged 11.2 points per game in just 22.2 minutes per game, helping give Boston’s offense a boost over the final six weeks of the season.
The big man has also made strides in his rebounding during the past two months, nearly matching the rebounding numbers of Boston’s best rebounder (Jared Sullinger) on a per minute basis over that stretch.
“I think it’s a little bit of everything, just settling down, getting comfortable, getting that mindset, attacking,” Olynyk said of his improvement. “And just realizing that that’s what I need to do to help the team.”
Recent injuries to Sullinger and Kris Humphries have opened up starter minutes for Olynyk in the past week and the 22-year-old has used the opportunities in fine fashion, posting back-to-back career-highs in points scored.
First, he finished with 25 points in a win against the Cavs Saturday night and followed that up with a game-high 28 points in a close loss against the Sixers on Monday. Overall, Olynyk has scored in double figures in five of his last six games, as the rookie has proven to be one of Stevens’ most reliable contributors of late.
For a team intent on making the jump next season back into playoff contention, the type of gains Olynyk has showed in the second half of the season is just what the doctor ordered. Whether the Celtics plan to use the big man as a young trade chip to help acquire a superstar or as a leader for the team’s second unit moving forward remains to be seen.
The important thing for Danny Ainge now though is that, unlike two months ago, both of those options are now on the table thanks to Olynyk’s emergence on the offensive end.
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