On Feb. 27, Kelly Olynyk received an inbounds pass from Killian Hayes with 2.1 seconds on the clock in overtime. He spun, launched a mid-range jumper and watched the first game-winner of his nine-year NBA career fall through the net.
“It took me nine years. I’m here!” an elated Olynyk said during the postgame news conference following the Detroit Pistons‘ 127-126 victory over the Charlotte Hornets. He had already long proven himself a reliable NBA center before the shot, but in hindsight, it was the moment Olynyk officially arrived in Detroit.
Olynyk’s first season with the Pistons got off to a slow start due to injuries, but he has become one of Detroit’s most consistent players since that game in North Carolina. In the 12 games since, he’s averaging 9.3 points, four rebounds and 2.2 assists in 17.5 minutes per game while shooting 56.5% overall and 50% from 3-point range. That includes his effort against the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday, in which he supplied 16 points, four rebounds and two blocks off the bench.
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The Pistons are 6-6 in that span. While credit also goes to the rest of the roste, Olynyk has shown why the Pistons inked him to a three-year contract. He’s a gifted offensive player, and he has lifted Detroit’s second unit.
Ten games into the season, Olynyk was sidelined for 33 games by a left knee sprain. He then returned for two games before missing four more with COVID-19. He has finally rediscovered his rhythm, and Pistons coach Dwane Casey never doubted that he eventually would.
“He’s not going to forget how to shoot,” Casey said Wednesday. “He may miss a few, but sooner or later the shooting’s going to come back. My hat’s off to him because he fought back from his knee injury. Got back, thought he was good, he works so hard and then all at once he gets hit with COVID. Psychologically, physically, that’s gotta do something to you. Now his game legs back, his rhythm back, his feel back. It took him a little time to do that. Kelly is going to be OK. Like I said earlier in the year, about Cade, I’m not worried about Kelly. He’s going to do what he does on the offensive end. But it’s good to see him get back in a rhythm and get his feel back again as we go into next year.”
In his 23 games this season before his game-winner, Olynyk averaged nine points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists on 39.4% shooting and 29.1% shooting from 3, well below his career marks of 47.5% and 36.6%, respectively. He had big performances in that stretch, though, including a 21-point, six-rebound, four-assist outing against the Hawks on Oct. 25 and a 22-point, nine-rebound, five-assist effort against the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 19.
But he struggled after returning from a battle with COVID-19 on Feb. 1. In 11 games between then and Feb. 26, he shot just 29.9% overall and 25% from 3.
Olynyk checks a lot of boxes for the Pistons. He’s a capable 3-pointer shooter and proficient post scorer, above-average passer and can run fast breaks as well. His ability to function as an offensive hub has made him a malleable weapon for the coaching staff.
Olynyk has also formed a offensive duo with Marvin Bagley III, who has largely come off of the bench since arriving in Detroit at the trade deadline. Bagley has played 126 minutes with Olynyk, compared to 73 with starter Isaiah Stewart. While Casey said that Bagley and Stewart can play together, Olynyk’s shooting makes him a more viable partner for Bagley, who isn’t much of a shooting threat but has been Detroit’s most efficient scorer and finisher at the rim.
“Kel can stretch the floor,” Bagley said. “Guys jump for his shot fake. That gives him an opportunity to drive and create for the rest of the team. He’s been great. I’ve been watching K.O. for a long time even before I was here, and I have nothing but good things to say about him. He’s a great teammate. He’s been helping me out a lot since I’ve been here. It’s great to be on a team with a guy like that.”