I’ll never forget the first time I saw the majestic 7 footer. He came in the store where I was “aspiring to be a manager”– with two other Freshmen— a future NFL Pro, Demetri Goodson (Played CB for the Green Bay Packers for 3 seasons and is currently in Free Agency), and some other nice kid who ended up not hacking it.
Anyway, after a few times of coming and going, we started to recognize one another and one fateful day we (Olynyk and I) shared laughter and I’m sure what one would say, the most love that two heterosexual males can share without crossing the line—Though I’m not 100% convinced there wasn’t at least a fleeting thought.
It started with seemingly normal small talk as I would typically help anyone around the store– led to me taking an early break as him and I were interested in checking out another store across the mall, together. As I walked in harmony with the tall man, we shared stories and simply put, just enjoyed one another’s company—like two childhood best buds. I’m sure he felt the same. The guy was genuinely funny and wasn’t “too” basketball, considering he played for the greatest past time that the city had to offer.
That city was Spokane, WA—where Kelly Tyler Olynyk began his long road to the NBA at the University of Gonzaga where the aforementioned true story took place.
However, let me digress—Kelly’s story starts in the big/small town of Kamloops, BC in Canada. In high school, Olynyk actually developed as a Point Guard even after his major growth spurts, which has resulted in why he is such a smooth big man that dribbles and shoots so well (resonating very well with today’s league). He was named Basketball BC Outstanding High School Player of the Year his Senior season (Grade 12), leading the South Kamloops Titans to a 36-2 record. This guy ALSO played football and was the STARTING QB for the South Kamloops Titans—For being Canadian—that’s as American as it gets.
Olynyk was recruited by big name schools all over the U.S.—a few being, Syracuse, NC State, and Gonzaga. Obviously, he chose to attend the University of Gonzaga. A small private college in Spokane, WA that somehow competes at the National level and seems to be in the consensus top 25 year in and year out—with occasional appearances in the Elite Eight and Final Four of March Madness.
At Gonzaga, Kelly’s road to success wasn’t an easy road. He struggled getting playing time during his Freshmen and Sophomore season’s and wasn’t quite happy with his development. This is what makes him special—not many players would be mature enough to make the decision that he made following his Sophomore season. Nor would many players choose the route, even if said player identified the need— Olynyk, with heavy consideration chose to opt out of his Junior season as a Red Shirt.
This decision, ended up being the best of his entire career. Kelly came back after his Red Shirt Junior season a different human being. He was much larger as he packed on much needed weight and muscle growth, catapulting him to a Consensus First Team All-American award which was immediately followed by him declaring for the NBA Draft.
Selected by the Dallas Mavericks with the 13th Overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, he was mistakenly and immediately traded to the Boston Celtics for a Fruit Roll-Up at a 2nd grade lunch table and a bad Shark Tank idea. Mark Cuban could only ride Dirk’s skirt tail for so long, and decisions like this one are one of many reasons why the Mavs haven’t been good (with the exception of the most recent pick of Luka Doncic and his smoke show mother—I see you Cuban, you little rascal).
In short, Kelly started his NBA career with the historic Boston Celtics where he was selected to the 2014 Rising Stars Challenge and was also named to the NBA All-Rookie second team in his first season. There, he spent 4 seasons sporting the green and white and played an integral role in their 2017 Playoff run. Olynyk hit 5 consecutive shots to seal game 7 against the Washington Wizards to advance the Celtics to their first Eastern Conference Playoff birth in 5 years.
The Celtics opted for the 3rd and 4th year team option in Kelly’s rookie contract, which should tell you something. They liked him. However, when push came to shove they knew they wouldn’t be able to pay him what he was worth. Olynyk signed a 4 year 50 million dollar deal with Miami Heat who already housed Hassan Whiteside. Which brings me to my next point.
This guy has shared significant time while in the league, yet produces very well and definitely deserves more of a role. He’s never really been “the guy” at the Center position for a team. He is a career 37% 3-point shooter at 7 foot, similar to future first ballot HOF’er Dirk Nowitzki who is a career 38% 3-point shooter at 7 foot. Only, Olynyk is more athletic, defends better and has just as good of foot work as Dirk does/did. His game is more in tune with what the league calls for Centers to do in today’s modern game.
Not convinced that he’s grossly underrated? Think of every team that needs a Center, insert Olynyk, and re-calibrate that team’s success going forward. With Olynyk on the floor, his skill set allows his team to create spacing due to other Centers having to step out and guard the perimeter, meanwhile can still can pound down low due to his athleticism and great foot work. Giving his coaches different option by being versatile enough to support any look or situation throughout a game. Olynyk is an ELITE NBA Center who hasn’t had the proper opportunity to shine.
He may be #9 on the floor, but he’s #1 in our hearts.