COMMENTARY | Current head coach of the Houston Rockets Kevin McHale has seen his fair share of great NBA players; his Hall of Fame career included seven trips to the NBA All-Star game, three NBA titles and he shared the parquet floor in Boston with immortals like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. McHale has seen it all in the NBA, which is why fans should take notice when he speaks so highly of Boston Celtics rookie Kelly Olynyk.
After coach McHale saw what Olynyk was capable of doing on the floor back in July during summer league exhibition games in Orlando, the Celtics legend couldn't stop raving about how strong Olynyk's offensive skills in the post looked and how smart the player from Gonzaga appeared on every possession. According to numerous NBA analysts, including those at NBA.com, Olynyk had the best summer league showing, beating out every player who was drafted in front of him who participated. It comes as no surprise then that McHale's opinion of the rookie big man was so high.
Why Kelly Olynyk could be the next Kevin McHale
Perhaps even more impressive though then the high reviews from NBA scouts and the endorsement from a Celtic legend is how much Olynyk looked like a young Kevin McHale himself, which may possibly explain why McHale loved his game so much. The physical similarities between the two are obvious; McHale played in the NBA at 6'10" and weighed around 210 pounds while Olynyk is currently listed at 7'0" and 238 pounds. Both played college ball in cold-weather cities at programs a notch below the elites-McHale for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers and Olynyk for the Gonzaga University Bulldogs. Both had similar skill sets when coming out of college, relying heavily on low-post moves and rebounding. McHale, like Olynyk, was not known as a highly athletic showstopper but did have an excellent mid-range shot for his height.
Even more similar is each player's college stat line. In McHale's senior season, he averaged 17.5 points per game, 8.8 rebounds, a shooting percentage of .567 and 0.9 assists. Olynyk finished his final season at Gonzaga averaging 17.8 points per game, 7.3 rebounds, a shooting percentage of .629 with 1.7 assists.
What to expect from the Celtics rookie
It would be unfair for anyone to expect Kelly Olynyk to play this season like the Hall of Famer that Kevin McHale was, but if he is able to reach his full-potential, it shouldn't come as a great shock if Olynyk is able to put up comparable numbers within the next couple of seasons.
So with that in mind, there is one additional lesson Celtics fans should keep in mind in 2013-2014 when watching Olynyk play: Kevin McHale himself took several years to develop before becoming what everyone in Boston now remembers. Until the 1985-1986 season, the sixth season in his career, McHale never started more than 33 games and averaged only 12.6 points per game in his first three seasons.
Kelly Olynyk has a lot of developing to do, but if he is able to stay healthy, if he continues to work hard and if he is able to consistently play solid offense in the low-post, he has a great opportunity to transform into an exceptional NBA player.
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Justin Haskins is a New England native and a freelance journalist. He has been obsessively following Boston professional sports for 10 years and has been published in numerous online publications and websites.
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