WALTHAM, Mass. – The vision that so many of us have when it comes to an impactful big man defender varies.
A shot-blocker extraordinaire like Phoenix’s Tyson Chandler. An athletic freak like the Los Angeles Clipper center DeAndre Jordan. And then there’s the big man with the nibble feet variety a la Memphis’ Marc Gasol.
Kelly Olynyk doesn’t fit the profile of any of those players, yet there’s no way around the impact that Olynyk has had defensively on games played this season by the Celtics.
He comes into Tuesday’s game against Milwaukee with a defensive rating of 71.7, which in this still-young NBA season is tops in the NBA among all players who have averaged at least 10 minutes of court time per game. He has been one of the keys to a Celtics squad with a defensive rating is 95.2, good for seventh in the NBA.
When asked about his play defensively and his impressive defensive rating, Olynyk responded, “I don’t know. It’s not something you can try and do. You have to play the way you’re playing. I just have to play hard on both ends of the floor.”
One of the keys to being a better defender is recognizing how to play off of - and with - different teammates. It hasn’t taken Olynyk long to discover the value of 6-foot-9 forward Amir Johnson in terms of helping establish a strong team defense. Johnson signed a two-year, $24 million deal with the Celtics during the offseason which includes a team option for the second year.
“He’s definitely a good guy to play with,” Olynyk said of Johnson. “He plays with high energy, high intensity on both ends of the floor. He makes things happen.”
Especially on defense.
“He makes things easy, he covers your back. He doesn’t need the ball on offense,” Olynyk said. “He doesn’t sell you out on defense. He’s got your back or he’s there. Often times he doesn’t need help so he doesn’t put you in that position. He’s a great guy to play with.”
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has been pleased with the growth that Olynyk -- as well as some of the team’s other young big men like Jared Sullinger -- have made defensively.
“He’s (Olynyk) done a pretty good job of being in the right position (defensively),” Stevens said. “He’s got a good feel for position. He’s done a pretty good job of getting out to shooters when he’s guarding shooters. He hasn’t been at the 5 (center) a lot, but when he’s been at the 5 we’ve been pretty active defensively and at times when we played a little smaller.
And while Olynyk’s numbers certainly stand out from others, Stevens reminds us all that good defense is anything but a one-man show.
“For one person to be good or have good numbers defensively,” Stevens said, “it’s relying on the other four people playing good defense with them. That’s a positive thing for sure.”