- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens has spent the entire 2013-14 season imploring rookie Kelly Olynyk to shoot more often. All it took was having nearly half the roster unavailable on Saturday, but Stevens finally got a look at Olynyk Unfiltered during Boston's 111-99 triumph over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena.
Olynyk put up a career-high 23 shots (making 11 of them), while scoring 20 first-half points and matching his career-high with 25 points overall over 39 minutes of floor time. He added 12 rebounds and three assists in a spot start that reminded many of Olynyk's potential.
In Boston's six games in the month of April, Olynyk is averaging 13.5 points on 53.3 percent shooting over a still-modest 23.5 minutes per game. He's taking (and making) his 3-point shot with increased confidence, while also using his passing skills to help facilitate the offense.
Here's the stat that leaps off the page recently: Over the past six games, Olynyk is averaging 1.066 points per play, according to Synergy Sports data. Even as he battles occasional turnovers bursts (he had a team-high four against the Cavaliers on Saturday), Olynyk has been ultra efficient on the offensive end.
Just how efficient? If Olynyk maintained that 1.066 points per play average over the course of the season, he'd rank just outside the top 10 in points per play among those with at least 600 offensive chances this season. That list is helmed by 3-point wizard Kyle Korver (1.15 ppp), MVP candidate Kevin Durant (1.125), Olynyk-idol Dirk Nowitzki (1.12), and four-time MVP LeBron James (1.115). Which is to say, Olynyk's recent output puts him in a pretty elite class, even in a small sample. For the season, Olynyk is averaging 0.899 points per play.
The bottom line is that there's been visible progress and Olynyk has responded particularly well when thrust into a larger role. Go ahead and put an asterisk on Saturday's game if you'd like -- the Cavaliers were clearly a largely disinterested bunch until the final minutes -- and that gave Olynyk a chance to show off his talents.
When Anderson Varejao drifted too far to clog up the paint, Olynyk made the Cavaliers pay by making his some triples (even if he didn't call glass while banking one early in the second quarter). Olynyk generated much of his point total near the basket, making a series of layups (with Cleveland unwilling to defend some of his drives). Olynyk and fellow rookie Phil Pressey continue to play well together due to their familiarity with one another.
Eventually, Olynyk was knocking down this sort of Dirk-like moves (GIF via Reddit; CSN Screenshot):
Olynyk still has work to do on the defensive end. The Celtics are giving up a whopping 107.2 points per 100 possessions when Olynyk is on the floor this month and his Synergy defensive numbers for that six-game span are not pretty (allowing 0.982 points per play). But this is what the Celtics expected: An offensive game that was more NBA ready than his defense.
The other encouraging aspect of Olynyk's game recently is his rebounding. For the month of April, his defensive rebounding percentage is off the charts at 26.4 percent (well above his season average of 18.5 percent). Stevens has to like progress at both ends of the court.
But chances are he'll continue to be in Olynyk's ear about shooting more over the final two games. The Celtics have been all about progress since being eliminated from playoff contention and they've been more than happy to sacrifice a few ping-pong balls if it means that a guy like Olynyk is making strides and helping the team close out the season strong.
4dMatt Walks, ESPN.com
4dESPN Stats and Information Group
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