By Nekias Duncan
With 6:41 left in the first quarter, Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside found himself in the danger zone. He had his back to the ball, looking to snuff out potential screening action on the weakside. In doing so, he allowed Boban Marjanovic to set up shop in the paint.
By the time Whiteside realized the Detroit Pistons were opting for another post-up, it was too late; Marjanovic got the clean seal, received the entry pass, then sprinkled home a jump hook over Whiteside, while also drawing the foul.
That bucket did a few things. It raised Marjanovic’s scoring total to eight (nine if you include the free throw), it sent Whiteside to the bench with his second foul, capping off an uneven start to the game. Ultimately, it forced Miami to make the chess move that has flummoxed the opposition this season, and would eventually win them this game: sliding Kelly Olynyk down to center.
Olynyk made his presence felt by leveraging his shooting. On the possession following the free throw, Miami flowed into their curl-and-pop action with Tyler Johnson and Olynyk. A solid screen from Olynyk freed Johnson from the corner, allowing him to catch and attack on the move. With Avery Bradley trailing, Marjanovic had to drop in containment, conceeding the open triple to Olynyk.
A little bit later, Miami found themselves pushing after a Detroit miss. Goran Dragic drove, not quite into the teeth of the defense (the upper lip, maybe?), but far enough to use his defender (Ish Smith) as a human shield against Marjanovic. Olynyk was the trailer and practically waltzed into a three.
Once Detroit started selling out on the perimeter, Olynyk used their fear against them. Here, he pops out for the potential three. Tobias Harris runs out to close, only for Olynyk to burn him with a pump fake.
Of course, it wouldn’t be an Olynyk Game without a fake handoff. He and Wayne Ellington have developed nice chemistry, mostly because teams fear both as shooters. If Ellington gets a sliver of space, he’s pulling it. If the hedge man steps out to dissuade an attempt from Ellington, he’s shown the willingness to flip it back to Olynyk for an open three himself. Here, watch how Olynyk fakes the handoff as soon as his man (Anthony Tolliver) straightens his stance.
Olynyk racked up his third double-double of the season, dropping a game-high 25 points and 13 rebounds. He also added three assists while shooting 11-of-15 from the field, 3-of-5 from deep, and finishing with a plus-3.
The Olynyk signing came pretty much out of nowhere this summer. His average salary (roughly $12 million per year) was fine in a vacuum; Signing a seven footer despite already having Whiteside, drafting Bam Adebayo, and bringing back James Johnson (played both big man spots last season) was seen as questionable.
Olynyk has responded with a career high in points (10.5), rebounds (5.9), assists (2.1), and three-point shooting (44.6 percent). His ability to screen (4.5 screen assists per 36 minutes), shoot, and pass has added much needed diversity to Miami’s attack. Add in the fact that Miami has been 5.0 points better per 100 possessions with Olynyk on the floor — nearly eight points better per 100 possessions on offense — it’s hard to argue against his value at this point.