Celtics

Celtics

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Kelly Olynyk is in a groove now where he’s doing the seemingly unthinkable – he’s shooting the ball.

“He brings something different with his ability to really stretch the floor,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens who has been encouraging Olynyk to shoot more since like, well, forever. “Not only from 3-pont line shooting it, but also with his ability to make plays off the bounce when he catches it outside the arc. We need him to continue to play well for us to be a good team.”

Indeed, Boston (14-10) will need another strong showing from Olynyk on Tuesday night when the Celtics take on the Cleveland Cavaliers.

After years of being told to shoot more, Olynyk seems to be taking those words of encouragement to heart now.

In Boston’s last six games, Olynyk has averaged 12.7 shot attempts per game. That’s a noticeable bump up of more than 50 percent from his season average of 8.2 field goal attempts per game.

“I’ve been telling him to shoot it since I got here,” said Stevens, now in his third season as the Celtics head coach. “I don’t know what’s different; probably feels more comfortable. Maybe that’s what experience does. My message has stayed the same. I almost tried the opposite and see if it works. But I didn’t.”

The turning point for Olynyk appears to have been Boston’s trip to Mexico City in which they played – and thrashed – the Sacramento Kings, 114-97.

Olynyk came off the bench and scored 21 points on 9-for-12 shooting from the field.

That was the first of what would be five of six games in which he took at least 10 shots from the floor.

It was around a year ago this time (Dec. 12-23, 2014) in which Olynyk had double figure shot attempts five times during a six-game span.

But there’s a difference now.

Last season, Boston lost all five of the games in which he tallied 10 or more shot attempts.

But this season, the Celtics are 4-1 in the last five games that he has taken double figure shot attempts.

Stevens said Olynyk isn’t the first player he has coached who had to be repeatedly encouraged to shoot more. With Olynyk, Stevens thinks part of the issue has to do with Olynyk’s past at Gonzaga.

You have to remember with him, he was a really good player, but his first breakout season was his last year in college,” Stevens said. “In fact, he redshirted the year before. Even though he was a four year college person, he didn’t have your typical, NBA, four-year college career.”

Indeed, Olynyk’s strength in the eyes of many has been his versatility to fit into any kind of system and be a contributor. But the more he plays, the clearer it becomes that he has the potential to do much more on the floor – especially offensively.

At 7-feet tall, he can see over the top of most defenses which makes his pass-first mentality a major asset. But what he has been encouraged to do more of is look to score. He handles the ball well enough against most bigs to beat them off the dribble and get closer to the rim. And if they are overly concerned about that, he has a good enough touch from 3-point range to make them pay if they leave him enough space.

Olynyk prides himself on being a good, all-around player who can contribute in ways besides scoring. Finding that balance between getting others involved while staying aggressive as a scorer, is not easy.

“It’s tough,” Olynyk said. “You talk to players and you want to shoot more. It’s great that the coach has that much confidence in you. But you’re the one out there playing the game, seeing the game through your eyes. So you have to make the right basketball plays. That’s how I was taught to play the game.”

Still, he understands that the way he’s playing and the way teams are defending him – and in some cases not defending him – he has no choice but to become more of a scorer.

“I’m definitely looking for my shot more,” he said.