This season Miami Heat saw Kelly Olynyk as their point center, with his perceived ballhandling and shooting skills. Things haven't turned out as forecast, especially in the last-minute loss to the Denver Nuggets.
For the trio of Olynyk, Tyler Johnson and Justise Winslow, that game’s dismal on-court, off-court numbers for offensive ratings (ORtg) weren't pretty to say the least. The offense disappeared with them on the court, 71, and prospered when they were off the court, 118.
[LEGEND: MIN: minutes played; ON: on-court ORtg; OFF: off-court ORtg; DIFF: on-court minus off-court; NET: on-court minus off-court difference for offense and defense; TO: turnovers]
Notably the biggest drop in offense happened when Dragic (67) and Waiters (73) were off the court. Bam Adebayo and Okaro White, 125 and 118, who were on the court for a combined 17 minutes, had the highest ORtg numbers. Why were their numbers so much higher?
First, they didn't turn the basketball over: zero turnovers in limited minutes. Second, the ball didn't stick in their hands compared to other teammates. They aren’t good ballhanders, but try to minimize that deficiency by moving without the ball in their hands. Olynyk, Johnson, and Winslow held the ball too long and often tried to make something out of nothing: either going iso-ball or making ill-advised passes.
The top five players in ORtg of Adebayo, White, Hassan Whiteside, Dion Waiters, and Goran Dragic outscored the Nuggets by 34 PPP, while the bottom three were outscored by an average of 48 PPP. What to do? One possible solution could be to take the ball out of Olynyk's hands as a primary playmaker, and take advantage of his superior scoring abilities.
Olynyk ranks second among five of the top players in the NBA, which includes Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Evan Fournier, and Kevin Durant, in true shooting percentage (TS%). The table below has only those men playing more than 20 minutes a game and a usage rate over 20% (103 in total).
[LEGEND: MIN = minutes; NET = net rating; TOR = turnover ratio; EFG% = effective field goal %; TS% = true shooting %; USG% = usage %]
True Shooting %
Of the 103 players on the list, only Kris Dunn has a higher TOR than Olynyk. Including James Johnson’s 17.6, the Heat’s second unit has two of the five most turnover-prone players in the NBA. On the positive side, KO’s TS% is second only to Curry of the 103 qualifiers, which comes as somewhat of a surprise.
LeBron James’ unexpected negative Net Rating occurs because his Defensive Rating ranks 93rd of the 103 players on the list. The Cleveland Cavaliers have two other players ranked as the 11 worst defenders, Kevin Love (100) and Derrick Rose (99). Father Time caught up to James first on the defensive side of the ball.
With the season already 10% in the books, Olynyk also has elite numbers in points per shot (PPS), i.e. he’s second among all qualified NBA players in efficiency per attempt at 1.54 PPS.
Points Per Shot
He fits the role Luke Babbitt had last season perfectly, making 11 of his 18 3-point attempts, 61%, from above the break. In corner 3’s he made 2 of 5, perhaps because of the tight spaces there, or the defenders are taller.
Beyond the break the 7-foot Olynyk has no problem getting an easy look over shorter guards, plus he more room to operate than by the baseline. Should another 7-footer go out to defend him, that leaves a mismatch for Whiteside or Adebayo to exploit in the paint.
Why sign Olynyk for more money when Babbitt was available? That’s a question that needs to be answered over the next 4 years of his contract, as he learns Heat Culture. He promises more upside in ballhandling and rebounding than Luke, and hopefully that will blossom over time.
Adebayo has shown astounding growth in court awareness during his 8 games. Should Kelly progress that quickly, the pieces might gel together in Miami much faster than last year.
Miami had success last season with Babbitt and McGruder as forwards to space and scavenge the floor, which facilitated the drive and kick game for Dragic and Waiters. This season the combination of Olynyk as the spacer, and White or Jordan Mickey as the scavengers, might recreate that same magic. Should opposing teams game plan against them, Whiteside and Adebayo will be more than happy to dunk on an overwhelmed defender.