Phil Pressey is a point guard, and thus prone to a miserable time in summer league competition.
He needs chemistry, teammates willing to play together, to thrive. Thankfully for Pressey, Kelly Olynyk has a clue.
“This guy back here, he thinks like a guard, and that makes it a lot easier on me,” Pressey, the Celtics free agent via Missouri, said with a nod in Olynyk’s direction Sunday following a 95-88 loss to the Magic on the first day of the Orlando summer league.
But this is why president of basketball operations Danny Ainge traded up to draft the Gonzaga center with the 13th pick. Olynyk was the most offensively skilled center on the draft board — miles ahead of Nerlens Noel and even Alex Len in terms of his ability to see the floor.
All of that vision and polish came out in Olynyk’s first game in a Celtics uniform. He not only scored 25 points on 9-for-12 shooting, hitting from a shot chart’s worth of spots, he also laced passes out of the high post and generally boosted the floor’s IQ level.
“I would just be guessing at what he meant, but I’m guessing he means how I make plays and see the floor,” Olynyk said of Pressey’s compliment.
Olynyk, like every other player in the Orlando summer league, has plenty to learn. But among the first-year players, Olynyk has a shred more NBA readiness.
His offense is remarkably varied.
“It’s our job as coaches to find the best situation to take advantage of his matchup,” Celtics assistant coach Jay Larranaga said of the benefits that come with Olynyk’s skill. “If it’s a bigger guy you try to get him on the perimeter, and if it’s a smaller guy you try to post him. He’s a lot of fun to coach, a very nice kid.”
And like a lot of nice kids, Olynyk has to be prodded.
“Yeah, he’s good when he takes it,” Larranaga said of Olynyk’s surprisingly good 3-pointer.
“He had some he turned down. I think he needs to know we have the utmost confidence in whatever decision he makes, because he’s such a smart basketball player.”
This is partly the result of playing at Gonzaga, where ball movement is king. Olynyk knows that on this level, he’ll have to do some serious shooting.
“It’s tough because I’m kind of an unselfish player sometimes,” he said. “They’re telling me to shoot when I’m open, and not be worried.”
That’s especially true when Olynyk has room beyond the 3-point line.
“Stretch the floor, open driving lanes for guards,” he explained. “That makes it tough for defenses. Definitely it’s a shoot-the-ball-when-you’re-open kind of thing. Lot of times big guys want to block shots and be in the paint on defense, so it’s different for big guys to guard you out there. It’s not because they’re giving you an extra cushion because they don’t think you can make it — it’s because it’s not natural.”
It’s not natural for them, anyway.
The difference in Olynyk’s game is apparent to everyone, including a player he’ll be spotting out of the high post next season.
“Kelly is a great basketball player, with a great inside game and a great outside game,” said Jared Sullinger, who is helping the coaching staff this week.
“He just has to be more aggressive, especially in the summer league right now.
“Every time he touches the ball he should look to score, and open shots he has to shoot them. Let these guys know that he came to play. Other than that, he’s playing well.”