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Another look at the Miami Heat win against the San Antonio Spurs gives an unexpected result

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A couple of defensive lapses by the Heat on the road left little choice but to get back on track again.

San Antonio Spurs v Miami Heat Photo by Oscar Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

The defensive identity of the Miami Heat lay in taters after surrendering 124 points to the 10-29 New York Knicks in Manhattan. A minor injury to Tyler Herro lead to Kelly Olynyk being on the court back in South Beach. All of a sudden Miami’s defense arose from the dead to produce a Heat-type 106-100 victory over the San Antonio Spurs.

Was the tightening of defense simply a stroke of luck, or something else? Well it turns out that the plodding, nonathletic Olynyk is surprisingly effective on defense. Granted that he gets beat off the dribble by quicker players, but his overall stats reveal a sneaky good defender.

Consider his numbers among Heat players coming off the bench (per 100 possessions, min 6 games):

  • Defensive WinShares: #2 at 0.162 (James Johnson #1 at 0.199)
  • Defensive Rating: #2 at 106.3 (James Johnson #1 at 104.1)
  • Opponent Second Chance Points: #1 at 12.1 (Derrick Jones Jr. #2 at 12.8)
  • Opponent Points Off Turnovers: #2 at 18.6 (Justise Winslow #1 at 17.5)
  • Opponent Fast Break Points: #2 at 11.6 (James Johnson #1 at 10.5)
  • Opponent Points in the Paint: #3 at 44.8 (Justise Winslow #1 at 37.9, Chris Silva #2 at 38.5)

These figures weren’t expected considering how Olynyk was perceived coming out of Gonzaga as the 13th pick by the Boston Celtics in 2013.

“The Celtics traded up three spots to acquire the 7-footer on draft night, apparently trusting that intelligence and a wide array of offensive talents will help him overcome a lack of elite athleticism.”

“In the annual rookie survey, released Monday, the Boston Celtics center finished third in the preseason voting for Rookie of the Year behind Victor Oladipo and C.J. McCollum.”

That forecast didn’t pan out, but Olynyk did finish ahead of Giannis Antetokounmpo in the 2014 Rookie of the Year voting (points).

  1. Michael Carter-Williams, 250
  2. Victor Oladipo, 248
  3. Trey Burke, 230
  4. Mason Plumlee, 214
  5. Tim Hardaway Jr., 204
  6. Kelly Olynyk, 119
  7. Giannis Antetokounmpo, 116
  8. Gorgui Dieng, 96
  9. Cody Zeller, 67
  10. Steven Adams, 65

Whatever the reason, Olynyk hasn’t maximized his skills up to this point in his NBA career. Actually he’s most effective working around around the rim using his guile and slick moves as this scouting report forecast.

“Legit 7 footer with a polished, highly effective post skill set … Very comfortable operating on the block, using textbook positioning … Has the ability to score on the block with up and unders, pump fakes, drop steps as well as knock down mid range and even outside shots … Solid in the open floor but more effective in the half court … Not pretty but effective … Finishes very well around the basket, even after contact … Gets the most of his abilities on the defensive end, staying between man and basket and not biting on pump fakes or gambling for steals.”

“Not pretty, but effective” describes Olynyk’s game. Some of his mistakes on defense make people cringe and curse. That said, his numbers paint an alternative picture of an effective presence defending in the half court. As noted above Olynyk gets spectacularly burned by more athletic players, but compensates for the most part by using his wits playing a more conservative type of game around the basket.

Stats courtesy of NBA Stats.