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Film Don’t Lie: Kelly Olynyk returns to mixed results

I take a look at the first games of Kelly Olynk’s return from his extended absence

Detroit Pistons v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

After more than two months absent from the court, Detroit Pistons fans finally saw the return of Kelly Olynyk. Olynyk was the team’s biggest offseason addition in Troy Weaver’s second season. Many people, myself included, were excited to see how Olynyk would help space the floor for this Pistons offense, and even if not starting, we figured he’d be in the closing lineup with Cade Cunningham and company. We only got a 10-game sample size of Olynyk to start the season (some of those games w/o Cade) before the unfortunate knee injury. At the time of the injury, he was putting up the following statline:

  • 12.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.4 SPG, .7 BPG, 1.5 TOV, 46% on 9.8 FGA, 34% on 4.1 3FGA, 60% on 3.5 FTA (10 Games)

Olynyk returned to the lineup on Jan. 19 with a bang and helped the Pistons secure a win over the Sacramento Kings. The numbers he put up that night definitely skew what we have seen from him since his return, and after just two games he entered health and safety protocols that caused him to miss the next four games. I will admit that Thursday night’s game vs the Timberwolves was not a great showing from KO, but I do think the four games since his return we can see the positives (and negatives) he brings to the team.

Statline since returning from his knee injury (I did only use the first four games for the film breakdown):

  • 7.0 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 4.0 APG, .4 SPG, .6 BPG, 2.0 TOV, 33% on 7.8 FGA, 20% on 3.0 3FGA, 75% on 1.6 FTA (4 Games)

Offense

It is easy to look at the numbers or watch the games and notice right away that Olynyk has not been hitting 3-points the way you would like. Obviously, it would be nice to see those start falling at his career clip of 37% but even without them going down you can immediately see the floor spacing he creates for himself and others.

On top of this, I do think you can watch multiple offensive possessions and see the difference in the flow of the offense when Olynyk is on the court as he is a very good passer and connector. Lately, you are seeing more turnovers than you’d like, but like his 3-point shot, you hope that issue is temporary.

He also impacts the offense in other ways as he is very comfortable in the DHO, whether fans like/agree with it or not this is a staple of a Dwane Casey offense, and is sneaky good at setting off-ball screens to get teammates quality looks. As we know, he isn’t a high riser in the dunker spot OR a lob threat in a PnR, but he uses his IQ to sneak in for the occasional putback. One of my favorite plays of this is highlighted in the breakdown when gets an easy bucket off a post up after a PnR.

Defense

We all know that Olynyk isn’t going to be an anchor for your defense or even really be a plus defender at all. The best you can hope for with him is that he is at least a neutral defender with his basketball IQ, positioning and anticipation. When I did my offseason breakdown of his game that is exactly what I thought he would be, and I felt we did see that during his early 10-game stretch with the Pistons.

In his return, I have to admit that he has been more negative than positive on the floor. He is getting absolutely exposed in drop coverage situations trying to stay in front of the ball handler and has had some really bad post isolation possessions. Again, we knew when the signing happened that the Pistons weren’t getting a “lockdown” on-ball defender, but I do think it has been even more noticeable since his return.

Now, in fairness to Olynyk, he is in his 30s coming off a knee injury followed by a stint in protocols, and I do think he looks noticeably slower. I realize he wasn’t the most fleet of foot to begin with, but that extra half-second might be making a major impact right now. It will be very interesting to see if he can get back to that neutral level of defense as he works himself back into game shape.

Overall, KO is still much a net positive on the offensive end even when he is not making shots at the rate I assume we will see when he gets his legs under him (and as long as he eliminates those recent turnover issues). I also think we will see him get back to that net neutral mark on the defensive end. I realize he is not part of the long-term answer for this organization but the value he brings does help with important development for the young core.