Why Kelly Olynyk should make Detroit Pistons guards’ lives easier this season

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Pistons’ biggest signing this past offseason is a player that Dwane Casey joked he has long had a “man crush” on.

Apparently, Casey and general manager Troy Weaver were on the same page. Kelly Olynyk, signed to a three-year, $37 million contract shortly after free agency began in August, will fill a lot of holes for the Pistons this season. The 6-foot-9 Toronto native, a nine-year vet out of Gonzaga, is a skilled passer and shooter who’ll likely be among the team’s leaders in minutes.

He’ll also offer mentorship for a young Pistons team with 10 players 23 or younger. Olynyk and Casey, who coached the Toronto Raptors for seven seasons, have long been acquainted. He saw the Pistons as a team who fit his aspirations at this stage in his career, and he’s eager to play for Casey.

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“We’ve got a great group of young guys,” Olynyk said. “Love the way we play. We play hard, play together, no egos. We just have fun playing basketball. For me, it’s just about, I’m at a point in my career where I feel that I can really help a team like this. A young team needs leadership on and off the court. I’m nine years in now, so you have those tricks of the trade. It’s time to pass them on.”

Shooting was one of Detroit’s biggest offseason needs, and it’s one of Olynyk’s greatest strengths. He’s a career 36.7% shooter from 3-point range, but he hit 39.2% of his 3-pointers in 27 games with the Houston Rockets last season. (Before that, though, he shot 31.7% on 3s in 43 games with the Heat last season.) Olynyk has long been one of the NBA’s highest-volume 3-point shooters among big men, making him a good fit with the Pistons.

Olynyk’s ability to space the floor from the center position will make life easier for all of his teammates, but it could particularly help Killian Hayes and Cade Cunningham — who both will have the ball in their hands a lot. Olynyk’s presence should open up more driving lanes for the guard duo, among other benefits.

“He’s a threat at the five if he’s playing the five out there,” Casey said. “He’s a shooting threat. So that big guy, they can stay back in the paint if they want to. And that really helps everybody else. And then like you said, if there’s pressure coming down the floor, you always have an outlet at the top of the floor, Killian and Cade.

Casey said he envisions playing Olynyk and Isaiah Stewart together at times. Both players project best as centers on this roster, which otherwise lacks size, other thanrookies Luka Garza and Jamorko Pickett. But Olynyk has played both power forward and center throughout his career, and the Pistons began prepping Stewart to play power forward last season.

Stewart was more comfortable scoring in the paint than from outside last season, but improving as a shooter has been a focus. He shot 33.3% on 63 3-point attempts last year. Olynyk could help him improve. Stewart has made it a point to learn from his new teammate during camp.

“I can definitely see that fit,” Stewart said. “Kelly’s a really smart player. He’s really great at playmaking. Really good on the offensive end. That’s a guy that, since he’s been here, I’ve been picking his brain, because I want to be a better playmaker. He’s good out of DHO’s (dribble handoffs) and reading those kinds of things. I can definitely see us fitting together and playing the four, me at the five, interchanging. We both can stretch the floor.”

Beyond shooting, Olynyk is also a skilled passer and ball-handler for his size. He’s one of the league’s higher-usage big men, largely because he can pass out of the high post and from the top of the key. His assist percentage has been above 11% for his entire career, and that’s a high number for a big. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him occasionally bring the ball up the floor, as Mason Plumlee had the green light to do last season.

“I played throughout my career with bigs like Isaiah,” Olynyk said. “Alongside guys playing the four and stretching the floor, but I’m also playing the five with smaller units and making it tough for people to guard, play more perimeter-oriented, drawing guys outside of the paint and creating space for those attacking guards. That’s the versatility you want to bring, and hopefully I can.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Pistons content. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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