Wizards

Kelly Olynyk emerges as star for No. 8 Gonzaga

Kelly Olynyk emerges as star for No. 8 Gonzaga

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) Gonzaga forward Kelly Olynyk figured he wouldn't get much playing time behind Robert Sacre and Elias Harris last season, so he redshirted.

Good move.

The junior has emerged as the leading scorer for No. 8 Gonzaga (16-1, 3-0 West Coast Conference) this season.

``He grew up and his game grew up,'' coach Mark Few said of Olynyk's redshirt season. ``In the past he was a little out of control and made a lot of turnovers. Now, he is in control and his game is more mature.''

Olynyk, a 7-footer, is averaging 18 points and 6 rebounds per game, and he's shooting 66 percent from the field. He dropped a career-high 33 points on Santa Clara on Jan. 5 and followed that up with 31 against archrival Saint Mary's last Thursday.

He was named the West Coast Conference player of the month for December.

Olynyk is a big reason Gonzaga is off to the best start in its history as a Division I program, as the Zags prepare this week to play at Portland on Thursday and at No. 13 Butler on Saturday.

All the attention is a big change for a player who before the season might have been considered an afterthought on Gonzaga's deep front line.

``He's improved more than anybody in college basketball,'' Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said after Olynyk made 11 of 19 shots against his team. ``We were prepared for him and he still did it to us.''

Olynyk is from Kamloops, British Columbia, and was heavily recruited out of high school by the likes of Syracuse, Providence and North Carolina State. He chose Gonzaga in part so he could play closer to home. Playing time was hard to come by his first two seasons, and Olynyk averaged only 5 points and 4 rebounds as a little-used sophomore.

Then he went to coaches with the idea of redshirting because he didn't figure to displace Sacre, now with the Los Angeles Lakers, and Harris, one of the team's best players. A season of sitting on the bench opened Olynyk's eyes to the intricacies of the game, Few said.

``He got to see things from a coaching point of view that could be beneficial to all players,'' Few said.

Olynyk credited lots of playing time in practice with the scout team for his improvement.

``You can take some bad shots and make mistakes because it really doesn't matter,'' Olynyk said. ``You're meant to make mistakes.''

This season, Olynyk figured to split time with Harris, Sam Dower, and Przemek Karnowski on the front line. But as the season has worn on, it is Olynyk and Harris who have taken the lion's share of the minutes.

``The one downside to great depth is that,'' Few said.

Asked if he had ever seen a player improve so much during a redshirt year, Few offered a different opinion.

`That's implying he wasn't very good when he got here,'' Few said. ``He's adjusted his game is what he's done. He quit settling for 3's and became a very good player.''

``He is one guy that is not afraid to make a play,'' Few said. ``He is multi-talented in regards that he can drive it comfortably. He can pass it, and you guys know that he can shoot it.''

The formerly clean-cut Olynyk also grew out his hair, so that he now needs headbands to keep it out of his face. That prompts plenty of opposing fans to chant ``get a haircut.''

``If that's what they want to focus on, it's OK with me,'' Olynyk said.

He's been playing well all season, but the past couple of weeks have been a real coming-out party. Olynyk scored 21 points each in wins over Baylor and Oklahoma State, 16 points in the conference opener versus Pepperdine and then the 33 against Santa Clara and 31 against Saint Mary's. The last Gonzaga player to have consecutive 30-point games was Adam Morrison in 2006.

``I'm happy with the way I'm playing now,'' Olynyk said. ``My teammates are getting me the ball in great position.''

Guard Kevin Pangos said Olynyk has emerged as the vocal leader of the Zags.

``He's being a true veteran,'' Pangos said.

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Otto Porter Jr. begins 2018-19 season with way too few shot attempts in Wizards' loss

Otto Porter Jr. begins 2018-19 season with way too few shot attempts in Wizards' loss

The initiative to get Otto Porter Jr. more attempts from three this season is not off to a great start.

That right there is called an understatement. Because it would be one thing if Porter only took a couple of them, but he literally took zero against the Heat on Thursday night in the Wizards' 2018-19 regular season opener.

Yes, one of the NBA's best three-point shooters didn't even get off a single attempt from long range. That is simply hard to justify, especially after a preseason in which the team had a stated goal to shoot more threes than ever before.

It wasn't just threes. The often deferential Porter was even more gun shy than normal. He only took seven total shots in the 113-112 loss and topped out at just nine points.

Porter, in fact, had just one field goal attempt until there was 1:19 remaining in the first half, when he got two of them on the same play thanks to a rebound on his own miss.

Porter still affected the game in other ways, per usual. He had 11 rebounds, three steals and three blocks and finished +1 in +/- rating.

But for Porter to reach the next level as a player, he has to add volume to his efficient scoring numbers.

"We will look at the film and figure it out," head coach Scott Brooks said. "It's not like we go into the game wanting to only shoot 26 threes [as a team] and Otto shoot zero."

Brooks continued to say the problem is a combination of several things. More plays could be called for Porter and his teammates could look for him more often.

But ultimately, it's up to Porter to assert himself and take initiative. Granted, that may have been easier said than done against the Heat, who boast one of the best perimeter defenders in basketball in Josh Richardson. They are a scrappy team with athletic and hard-nosed defenders on the wing.

For Porter, though, that shouldn't matter. Ultimately, his share of the offense is up to him. The ball is going to swing around often enough for him to create his own opportunities.

Porter only taking seven shots is a bad sign considering Thursday was a better opportunity to get shots than he may receive in most games. The Wizards added Dwight Howard this summer and last season he averaged 11.2 shots per game, 3.4 more than Marcin Gortat, whom he replaced in the starting lineup.

It won't be easy, but the Wizards need Porter to take matters into his own hands.

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Despite late penalty, Todd Reirden doesn’t want to see Nathan Walker change his game

Despite late penalty, Todd Reirden doesn’t want to see Nathan Walker change his game

The Caps looked like they were in good shape in the third period on Wednesday. With a 3-2 lead in the final frame against a New York Rangers team that had played the night before, Washington looked like they were starting to wear down the blue shirts and tilt the ice in their favor.

But everything changed just before the midway point of the period.

Nathan Walker, in the lineup for the first time since Oct. 4, chased down Neal Pionk behind the Rangers net as Pionk went to collect the puck. Walker put his arms around the Rangers’ defenseman to slow him up and he was called for holding.

“That was the safest thing possible for me to do is to wrap him up and take him in the corner like that,” Walker said to NBC Sports Washington on Friday. “Personally, I didn't think it was a good call on the ref's side, but that's the way it goes.”

Just over a minute later, Chris Kreider deflected a shot that was going wide past Braden Holtby for the power play goal to tie the game at 3.

A third period mistake that tied the game from a player in and out of the lineup could have been a devastating moment for Walker, but head coach Todd Reirden was adamant after the game that he did not want Walker to lose his aggressiveness or change the way he plays as a result of Wednesday’s mistake.

“I insert him to be aggressive and his intensity was something we needed,” Reirden said. “I thought he won a lot of puck battles earlier in the game and at different points. He's pursuing the puck trying to force a turnover and it ends up as a call against. That's I think a tough call in that situation, but we're able to pick him up and if there's a guy on our team that we want to rally around and try to come back for, it's someone like that with a work ethic and just commitment and dedication and how he is as a teammate.”

Luckily for Walker, the Caps were still able to get the win thanks to Matt Niskanen’s overtime goal. Those were nervous moments for him watching as the team tried to overcome his mistake.

“It's definitely nerve-wracking for sure,” Walker said. “You kind of feel like you're the reason why they got back into the game. I personally thought we were all over them in the third period up until they got that goal. I think we still played really well, but obviously the play with the lead is a lot nicer than playing tied up 10 minutes to go in the third. It was nerve-wracking, but it was good that the guys came through and we got the two points at the end of the day so that's the main thing.”

The fact that Walker’s mistake did not end up costing the team will make it easier for Reirden’s message to sink in. It’s his aggressiveness that makes him valuable. One mistake should not make him change that aspect of his game.

Said Reirden, “It's something that if he stops hunting pucks and creating havoc up ice then he's just a very average player that's going to find himself in and out of the league.”

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