When the Detroit Pistons swapped out Mason Plumlee for Kelly Olynyk this offseason, they made a conscious decision to create more space for their young ball handlers. And if Olynyk’s time in Detroit mirrors his 27 games in Houston, it could be a consequential decision for the development of Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes.
In Houston, Olynyk enjoyed perhaps the best stretch of his eight-year professional career. His efficiency was through the roof on more usage than he normally sees, and he added what would have been a career-high assist rate.
Olynyk did all of that in an offense designed around ball and player movement while spacing the floor. As a stretch big who is an above-average shooter from deep, Olynyk fits that modern style offense well. And when spacing provides him advantages, he exploits them via his good passing.
While Detroit will undoubtedly miss Mason Plumlee’s passing this season, Olynyk provides enough of it and his shooting makes him a much better fit in a more modern offense to take advantage of the Pistons’ young, talented ball handlers.
Know Your Role
The former Gonzaga product will likely start the season off the bench as the backup center. But he also has the ability to play power forward alongside Isaiah Stewart if Detroit needs to go big against certain opponents.
Olynyk split his minutes evenly between center and power forward in Houston after spending most of the prior two seasons exclusively at the five in Miami. That versatility will be nice for a team with a dearth of good, experienced bigs.
His versatility is unlocked by virtue of his shooting and playmaking in advantage situations.
The majority of Olynyk’s shooting volume comes from popping towards the three-point line after screens. He does a good job getting into rhythm following picks and gets his shot off fairly quickly:
Note that the above pick-and-pop came with Olynyk being guarded by the opposing power forward, yet he still created plenty of room to get an in-rhythm look. Despite playing the four more often in Houston than he had in some time, he still managed to shoot nearly 40 percent on threes while being guarded by quicker defenders.
While most of his deep attempts last year came in catch-and-shoot situations, Olynyk did shoot just as well on pull-up attempts. The pull ups come in a couple main forms. First, he has developed something of a step back game in recent years.
Watch here how his defender closes out hard following a pick-and-pop and Olynyk hits him with a quick move to create the space necessary for a clean look:
Additionally, Olynyk can play the role of hitting threes in semi-transition as the trail man:
Even if the Pistons don’t play a ton of transition basketball this season, getting into offense earlier in the shot clock needs to be a priority. And having a threat to shoot as a trail big man can both get you good, early looks and allow the offense to be initiated if defenses over-commit on the trail man.
When defenses over-committed on Olynyk in Houston, he made them pay not with a stunning post game or a driving game but his passing.
Because he’s a legitimate threat from deep, defenses often feel the need to switch rather than going over or under a screen. And when Olynyk got a smaller defender on him off switches in Houston, he showed that he can make teams pay:
Even when he wasn’t drawing double teams, he hit cutters with pretty nice precision:
Olynyk may not be the passer Mason Plumlee was last season—you’re certainly not going to run your offense through him at the elbow like you could with the latter. But he can both keep defenses honest with his passing and take advantage when those defenses are cheating. And Detroit’s roster certainly showed a willingness to cut when their big was drawing attention last year. With Olynyk, those situations may occur with the big playing higher up but if he can replicate what he did in Houston, the young Pistons guards and wings could continue to find some easy buckets in the paint.
Defensively, Olynyk certainly has some limitations. He’s not the quickest guy in the world though he does move well enough to navigate screens and prevent wider driving lanes than opponents sometimes had with Plumlee.
Additionally, Olynyk is very much not a rim protector. Last year opponents shot over 62 percent against him at the rim. Though he did contest a respectable 4.2 attempts per game which was better than any Piston not named Isaiah Stewart.
But Olynyk wasn’t brought in for his defense. His job is to stretch the floor, take advantage of mismatches, and make life easier for the young Detroit guards and wings. The Pistons aren’t likely to win a ton of games over the length of Olynyk’s contract, but if he can replicate his time in Houston, he can be a valuable part of Detroit’s in-game development.