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The truth about Kelly Olynyk and his jump shot for Miami Heat

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Olynyk has a reputation as a floor spacer for the Heat, but is it warranted?

NBA: Miami Heat at Toronto Raptors Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After a disappointing six win, nine loss start to the season, perhaps Miami Heat need to tweek their playbook. One of the assumptions to be questioned is the role of Kelly Olynyk as a sweet-shooting 3-point threat. The potential is there, but after eight seasons in the NBA consistency remains an issue.

This scouting report on Olynyk from his tenure with Gonzaga gave a hint of what to expect from him as a professional.

“Kelly Olynyk was a spare player in his first two years at Gonzaga. He acted as a big man who hung around the perimeter and struggled to make much of an impact on the game.

“However, after taking a redshirt year to reinvent himself, he came back this season as one of the best players in the country. Olynyk averaged 18 points, seven rebounds and two assists on 63-percent shooting from the field, 30 percent from 3-point range and 77 percent from the free throw line. Instead of relying on his jumper, he made a concerted effort to play closer to the basket, attacking the defense off the dribble and in the post.”

The NBA profile page of Olynyk confirms that observation, because he never averaged above 39.8% with his jump shot in a season for either the Boston Celtics or the Heat.

Kelly Olynyk Profile

Season Jumpers % Made Layups % Made FT % Made
Season Jumpers % Made Layups % Made FT % Made
2013 289 33.2% 171 66.1% 122 81.1%
2014 330 35.4% 158 64.6% 136 68.4%
2015 347 33.7% 189 64.0% 128 75.0%
2016 294 36.1% 168 71.4% 123 73.2%
2017 404 37.6% 183 71.0% 174 77.0%
2018 376 35.6% 146 67.1% 185 82.2%
2019 284 39.8% 92 59.8% 100 86.0%
2020 97 31.9% 21 80.9% 11 72.7%
TOTAL 2421 35.8% 1128 67.0% 979 77.4%

His career average for all jumpers stands at 35.8%, while on layups he averaged 67%, which is 87% more efficient. Combining his inside scoring skills with the ability to draw fouls, he made 77% of his free throw attempts, may lead Olynyk to score like a less athletic version of another player on the Miami Heat, Jimmy Butler.

“The notion that Jimmy Butler is “an anti-analytics player” is laughable. Ever since Marquette, when scouts and coaches routinely discounted his value, Butler’s strongest supporter was ... analytics.”

Tom Haberstroh wrote, “Butler is a hero in the analytics community. If anything, it was traditional evaluation methods — not modern analytics — that vastly underappreciated Butler.”

“In 2009-10, Butler ranked No. 1 in the NCAA in Offensive Rating thanks to his impressive shooting percentages, keen ability to get to the line and microscopic turnover rate.”

So that’s the secret for Butler’s success on offense according to Haberstroh.

  1. Highly efficient scoring percentage
  2. Garner a lot of free throws
  3. Limit turnovers

“Butler may not have a knockdown 3-point shot, but it was clear he possessed something that the analytical community holds even more dear: the ability to draw fouls. It’s a wild exaggeration to believe that analytics only believes in 3-pointers. It’s far more accurate to say the analytics community likes 3-pointers, but they love free throws.”

Another theoretical free throw magnet for the Heat may be Meyers Leonard, who is a better jump shooter than Olynyk. Over his career Leonard converted 40.8% of his jumpers and 54.3% on layups. As a 79.5% free throw shooter he’s a threat to make three-point plays both ways.

Meyers Leonard Profile

Season Jumpers % Made Layups % Made FT % Made
Season Jumpers % Made Layups % Made FT % Made
2012 49 40.2% 34 50% 89 80.9%
2013 17 32.1% 4 40% 21 76.2%
2014 76 44.4% 13 54.2% 32 93.8%
2015 152 42.6% 15 41.7% 46 76.1%
2016 110 35.7% 10 58.8% 40 87.5%
2017 27 54% 7 63.6% 11 81.8%
2018 62 42.5% 11 40.7% 51 84.3%
2019 64 41% 20 80% 28 64.3%
TOTAL 415 40.8% 63 54.3% 176 79.5%

The Brooklyn Nets roster is undersized for the most part. 32 year-old DeAndre Jordan is 6’11” and 265 lbs. 21 year-old Nicolas Claxton is 6’11”, but only 226 lbs. 32 year-old Kevin Durant is 6’10”, yet only 225 lbs. All the other Brooklyn players are 6’8” or under.

The Nets don’t have an in-their-prime defender around the rim. In other words their smaller players guarding the likes of Olynyk, Adebayo, Leonard, Butler, Precious Achiuwa at the rim could possibly get them into foul trouble fairly quickly. The problem is Miami limiting turnovers when there are so many hands swiping at the basketball in close quarters. Butler and recently Adebayo have managed to hone the valuable skill of drawing fouls with minimal turnovers.

As his college scouting report noted Olynyk didn’t have much an impact as a big man stationed on the perimeter. Yet he led Gonzaga to a 32-3 record when using his crafty moves around the rim. Teams such as the Nets have more talented, but smaller players. Following the lead of Butler, the Heat might prevail with the strategy of taking high-percenatge shots, drawing fouls, and limiting turnovers against their opponents. Especially fruitful are bonus free throws on non-shooting fouls.