Kelly Olynyk: Living the big man’s dream

After his sophomore season 7-foot center Kelly Olynyk faced a major decision. Should he stay at Gonzaga where he wasn’t earning many minutes or should he transfer? The coaches – who had to re-recruit him – pointed out that he’d have to sit out a year if he transferred, so why not sit out at Gonzaga?

So that’s what he did. He took a rare mid-career redshirt and reinvented himself. He bulked up, he did agility drills, he changed his diet. But even when this year began there was still uncertainty at the center position. Sam Dower could do it. Freshman Przemek Karnowski was a huge and talented body. And there was Olynyk.

It didn’t help that Olynyk had to sit out the first three games due to a violation of team code. He finally played in the Zags fourth game of the season, and he played well against Clemson. The same thing happened in the following game vs Oklahoma. It didn’t take long to show who had earned the minutes.

With Olynyk out, Karnowski averaged 18.7 minutes per game. Now he’s earned less than 10 in four of the past seven games. Sam Dower averaged 25.3 minutes per game before Olynyk, and just over 16 per game since.

Olynyk has the highest offensive rating on an offensively gifted team. He’s made a remarkable 71% of his 2s. He makes over 80% of his free throws. And his ball skills are impressive – Mark Few often calls upon Olynyk to bring the ball up court. In other words, he’s living a big man’s dream.

So what makes him so effective?

It’s simple. It’s his versatility – Olynyk is one of the rate 7-footers who is equally skilled from all three levels. He can play with his back to the basket. He had a solid mid-range game.  And he can play beyond the arc.

Starting down low, here is Gary Bell (circled) telling Olynyk (arrow) to get to the other side of the lane to set up the play.

With Olynyk so deep in the post, Santa Clara has to front him. So it’s an easy screen for Bell to come across and hit Olynyk’s man, while Olynyk slides down for the easy pass from Stockton (circled).

Only Stockton makes the pass before Olynyk has cleared his man, but luckily, SCU is sleeping on the job and Olynyk is able to use his athleticism to make the catch and score.

The video:

Gonzaga has plenty of ways to get congestion around the basket in a way that benefits Olynyk. But they can also get it to him in the middle range. Here, Gonzaga has an isolation set up for Olynyk (circled) and Michael Hart (arrow) recognizes that he needs to dribble across the lane in order to complete the isolation set.

Hart makes the pass (arrow), and Olynyk (circled) is now free to go one on one.

Olynyk was a guard in high school and still possesses ball skills far superior to most college big men. Because of that, a mid-range jumper is almost always there for him because defender fear his drive. And he’s got a great mid-range jumper. He makes 60% of his 2-point jumpers, which is a ridiculous figure. But here he goes to the drive and picks up the foul.

The video:

Finally, Gonzaga is comfortable getting him the ball at the arc. Here Olynyk (circled) has an easy drive because of two things. One, his defender is giving him the left drive (as indicated by the plane of his body), and two, the help defender (arrow) is out of position and needs to be one big step toward the basket and one big step toward the lane.

Olynyk drives and here Sam Dower is the beneficiary. Dower’s man cuts off the drive and Olynyk deftly drops a bounce pass for the easy deuce. Good luck defending that.

The video: