“Kelly for MVP,” offered Sullinger, referencing teammate Kelly Olynyk, who will join him at Friday’s annual rookie/sophomore mixer. “The past two games, the way he’s been playing -- confidence means everything in the world in basketball -- so I don’t think anybody’s stopping him down there.”
Olynyk capped the pre-All-Star portion of Boston’s 2013-14 schedule with the first two double-doubles of his NBA career, including a 15-point, 10-rebound effort in Wednesday’s 104-92 loss to the San Antonio Spurs at TD Garden.
Despite more downs than ups on his rookie roller coaster this season, Olynyk is on the climb. In six games this month, he’s averaging 8 points on 48.6 percent shooting to go along with 6.7 rebounds over 20 minutes per game. He’s plus-18 in plus/minus over that span.
Olynyk has seen his offensive rating climb to 108.7 this month, a glossy number that’s 10 points higher than Boston’s 26th-ranked season average. What’s more, the Celtics’ defensive rating has dipped to 100.7 when Olynyk is on the floor this month (1.5 points lower than the season average).
Maybe most encouraging is that Olynyk’s rebound percentages have spiked recently (24.3 defensive rebound percentage; 18.6 total rebound percentage) and both numbers would lead the team if maintained over the course of the season.
Yes, it’s a small sample size that’s further corrupted by a weakened schedule, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that Olynyk, the 13th pick in June’s draft, is trending in a positive direction.
“[Olynyk has] got a really good feel for the game and he’s starting to really pick up where people are around him, which is opening up opportunities for himself and others,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “And then, I think defensively, he’s just been more aggressive to the ball, and I think that part of his rebounding is purely going after the basketball and not just being a guy that [boxes out].”
Olynyk admits that part of the challenge in his rookie season has been acclimating to the speed and athleticism of the NBA game. With 44 games logged, Olynyk is simply more comfortable on the floor and the results show in his play.
“Once you’re comfortable, you kind of know what the game has in store, so you can pick and choose your areas to attack, offensively and defensively,” Olynyk said. “You’ve kind of been through it once before. It kind of helps that way.”
The Celtics have put a premium on developing younger players this season, understanding that it helps the team more in the long run to nurture the guys with extended stays. That said, Stevens has been adamant that a player must earn his playing time.
The strides that Olynyk has displayed recently suggest a player who is ready for an increased workload. Olynyk’s time has climbed from December (14.6 minutes per game, slightly detoured by an ankle injury) to January (16.3 minutes) to the early part of February (20). While Olynyk downplayed the potential impact of more playing time, it’s undeniable that more floor time can help a young player avoid worrying about the mistakes that can be so discouraging in shorter appearances.
The Celtics could open some additional minutes in the frontcourt at the trade deadline depending on their activity. The power forward position remains logjammed with Brandon Bass and Kris Humphries joining Olynyk in picking at that pile of minutes.
Olynyk will get a chance to display his skills during Friday’s Rising Stars game, an opportunity to showcase the development he’s made on a national stage with some of the league's top first- and second-year players.
Celtics captain Rajon Rondo implored both Olynyk and Sullinger to embrace the opportunity the exhibition presents.
“They can settle or they can look at [the Rising Stars Challenge] as getting better,” Rondo said. “I think they can use it as motivation, that everybody wants to play on Sunday, and you've got to start somewhere, and they are starting on Friday.
“I think it’s great for those two young guys to have that accomplishment. Things aren’t going extremely well for us, but there’s a bright side in everything and those two guys have been playing well for us, especially as of late, both of them.”
Olynyk might not be dubbed MVP on Friday, but the Celtics have to like his development. Forget the "most," like any rookie, the goal is to simply turn him into a "valuable player" and that's where Olynyk is headed with his recent play.