The Celtics have not looked good this preseason.
No amount of excuses-making about the games not counting or a new coach or a vastly revamped roster can make up for the fact that when the players have been on the floor, the results have been uneven at best. The Celtics have treated the first eight minutes of games as warm-up time, routinely falling behind by double digits before their reserves surge back against the other team’s reserves.
While preseason win-loss records are never the best indicator of a team’s abilities, the Celtics are 1-5 for a reason.
Jeff Green has alternated jaw-dropping plays with head-shaking ones. Jordan Crawford has assumed more and more of the ballhandling duties from Avery Bradley. Jared Sullinger and Brandon Bass have been impressive overall, but the limitations of starting nobody taller than 6-foot-9 have been apparent against teams like the Nets, who have an All-Star-caliber center in Brook Lopez.
Then there is Kelly Olynyk.
True to Danny Ainge‘s word on draft night, Olynyk does not look like a future superstar. He has not been great creating his own shot off the dribble, which is a weakness for a face-up big man whose best weapon is his jump shot. He gets hit with needless fouls because his hesitance as a defender is exactly as it was advertised when he came out of Gonzaga.
Through six preseason games, Olynyk has committed 27 fouls, the most on the team. Sullinger, who has committed the second-most, has 19. Nobody else on the Celtics has half as many fouls as Olynyk.
Now that the nitpicking is out of the way, however, the overriding truth about Olynyk is unavoidable: The kid is good.
He may not be the next Dirk Nowitzki, although it is easy to imagine so when he knocks down a contested 18-footer, but he does not look like he will be the next Adam Morrison, either. If Bass and Sullinger keep playing like they have been, it will be tough for Olynyk to crack the starting lineup. But if Olynyk keeps playing like he has been, it will be tough to keep him off the court.
Olynyk was the Celtics’ best player against the Raptors on Wednesday, even as MarShon Brooks surpassed his 13 points. Olynyk scored those points on 6-of-7 shooting and added a game-high nine rebounds. He did not block a shot Wednesday — that still is not one of his strengths — but he has blocked four this preseason, tying Vitor Faverani for second-most on the club behind Kris Humphries and Green, with five apiece.
He does not fall into the stereotype of a pretty-boy big man who would rather fire away 20-footers than get his hands dirty. Even if his defense lacks polish, it does not lack for effort. That is why Stevens is not willing to throw out the baby with the bath water after Olynyk fouled out in just under 26 minutes in Toronto.
“He plays so hard,” Stevens told reporters. “He’s got to pick his spots a little bit. The one thing is, he’s always trying. He’s always trying to do his job well. I’d rather that be the case than not.”
Olynyk has been his own worst critic, which is refreshing as veterans like Green have shrugged off their obvious inconsistency as merely a product of the preseason. The first step to improving is admitting there is a problem, or at least an area of improvement. Olynyk knows he has things to work on, but the list is not nearly as long as it could be.