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One overlooked strength Kelly Olynyk brings to the Miami Heat

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Kelly Olynyk has one unseen talent very important in the NBA today.

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

What Kelly Olynyk gives the Miami Heat is more than his role as a back-up center or stretch 4. He replaces something Luke Babbitt received little credit during his lone season in Miami: an elite defender guarding pick-and-roll ball handlers.

Against pick-and-roll ball handlers, Olynyk shines as far and away the best defender the Miami Heat has on its team. His figures on opponent’s PPP, eFG%, and-one fouls committed, scoring frequency, all stand at elite levels among NBA players.

PnR Defense Ball Handlers

PLAYER PPP PTS eFG% And One Score Freq Percentile
PLAYER PPP PTS eFG% And One Score Freq Percentile
Kelly Olynyk 0.26 0.1 18.2 0.0% 15.8% 99.4
Luke Babbitt 0.62 0.4 34.4 0.0% 30.8% 91.9
Okaro White 0.69 0.6 34.6 0.0% 34.5% 86.1
Wayne Ellington 0.78 1.5 41.4 0.8% 39.0% 72.1
Josh Richardson 0.79 4.4 40.9 1.7% 36.8% 68.2
Dion Waiters 0.82 3.0 41.0 2.4% 38.8% 61.0
James Johnson 0.82 1.1 40.0 0.0% 39.6% 59.9
Tyler Johnson 0.86 4.4 45.0 2.4% 39.9% 46.2
Goran Dragic 0.89 4.3 46.9 2.0% 43.4% 37.9
Rodney McGruder 0.99 3.4 49.8 2.9% 46.0% 15.6
Justise Winslow 1.13 3.4 58.7 5.6% 51.9% 4.5

The pick-and-roll Roll Man defense statistics paint a different picture for the Heat.

PnR Defense Roll Men

PLAYER PPP PTS eFG% And One Score Freq Percentile
PLAYER PPP PTS eFG% And One Score Freq Percentile
Justise Winslow 0.33 0.1 16.7 0.0% 16.7%
Wayne Ellington 0.50 0.1 21.4 0.0% 25.0%
Kelly Olynyk 0.76 0.6 40.9 0.0% 35.5% 77.7
Goran Dragic 0.79 0.2 41.7 0.0% 31.6% 73.5
Josh Richardson 0.87 0.2 42.9 6.7% 33.3% 60.3
Okaro White 0.92 0.3 50.0 0.0% 41.7% 50.2
Tyler Johnson 0.97 0.4 44.6 0.0% 46.7% 42.5
Hassan Whiteside 0.99 1.2 44.8 1.0% 47.4% 40.4
Rodney McGruder 1.07 0.2 50.0 14.3% 50.0% 26.0
Luke Babbitt 1.08 0.4 51.9 3.8% 46.2% 24.2
Dion Waiters 1.09 0.3 54.5 0.0% 54.5% 20.5
James Johnson 1.13 0.7 55.8 2.1% 47.9% 17.0

Against pick-and-roll roll men, Justise Winslow and Wayne Ellington do the best job as the defenders on the Miami Heat. Their numbers on an opponent’s PPP, eFG%, and-one fouls committed, scoring frequency, all rank near the top among NBA players.

Olynyk trails Winslow and Ellington as a distant third behind them. While the roll man numbers don’t overwhelm like the ball handler ones, he still commands a 78 percentile ranking in the NBA.

Combined with Winslow covering the roll man, Okaro White and Olynyk give the Heat an outstanding defensive trio against teams, e.g. Toronto Raptors and Charlotte Hornets, which use the pick-and-roll as a mainstay option in their offensive arsenal. Another combination to use against pick-and-roll teams features the Olynyk and Ellington duo, because both are top-3 defenders versus the PnR on the current Miami Heat team.

Comparing the two tables illustrates how important switching defensive assignments is in today’s positionless NBA. Olynyk guards both the pick-and-roll handlers and roll men well, while Winslow would switch to covering the roll man instead of Dion Waiters (17% scoring frequency versus 55%), when the other team runs the pick-and-roll set play.

The flip side is how much will the Boston Celtics miss the several defensive stalwarts, who anchored the NBA’s top pick-and-roll roll men defense, they jettisoned this summer?