2014 Awards Series Most Improved Player: Kelly Olynyk

Celtics.com Awards Series

Most Improved Defensive POY MVP Sixth Man Sharpshooter Unsung Hero Game of the Year
Kelly Olynyk Brandon Bass Jeff Green Jerryd Bayless Avery Bradley Brandon Bass ---


It’s awards season at Celtics.com. We’re handing out seven awards over the next few weeks as we roll through this year’s Celtics.com Awards Series. We may not have trophies or acceptance speeches, but we do have some top-flight Celtics performances to outline.

Most Improved Player - Kelly Olynyk

Kelly Olynyk tips off our series by taking home the Most Improved Player award.

We know what you’re thinking: How can a rookie be most improved if he wasn’t even in the NBA last season? Well, to answer your question, we’re handing out this award based on Olynyk’s improvement from the first game of the season to the last.

Kelly Olynyk shoots a jump shot

Kelly Olynyk made 42.6 percent of his 3-point shots after the All-Star break.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

Olynyk’s rookie campaign got off to a rough start. Though he played his first career game in his hometown of Toronto, Olynyk scored just four points in 16 minutes of action. He scored in double-figures only three times during his first two months as a pro.

Much of the blame for Olynyk’s early struggles can be placed on the right ankle sprain he suffered on Nov. 22. That sprain forced him to miss 10 games over nearly three weeks of time.

Olynyk returned to the lineup on Dec. 13, essentially restarting his rookie season. We saw flashes of his abilities over the next few weeks, highlighted by a 21-point, four-rebound, five-assist game against the Hawks on New Year’s Eve, and a 25-point, five-rebound, seven-assist game against the Lakers on Jan. 17.

Those two performances aided Olynyk’s bid to be chosen as a participant in the Rising Stars game at All-Star weekend. He, along with teammate Jared Sullinger, was named to the game’s roster on Jan. 29.

From that point on, Olynyk began to figure it all out. He became more confident, and, in turn, more dominant.

Olynyk’s rapid ascension began during Boston’s final two games before the All-Star break. He tallied his first career double-double on Feb. 10 against Milwaukee, then logged another one just two nights later against San Antonio.

Those two contests began a snowball effect that continued for the remainder of the season. Olynyk just got better and better as time wore on.

He came back from All-Star weekend and shot the ball like an All-Star for the final 26 games of the year. He shot 51.1 percent from the field and 42.6 percent from 3-point range during that time. That 3-point percentage ranked second among all centers, and only eight players in the league outperformed that rate over the course of the entire season.

Olynyk’s emergence eventually forced the hand of Brad Stevens. The coach needed him in the starting lineup, so that’s exactly where Olynyk went for Boston’s final three games.

The Celtics' final three opponents didn't have an answer for the 7-foot rookie. Olynyk set a career high with 25 points against Cleveland on April 12, and then set a new career high two nights later with 28 points against Philadelphia. He closed out the season by dropping 24 points on the Wizards during the final game of the season.

His impressive numbers didn’t stop in the scoring column. Olynyk also averaged 9.3 rebounds per game and 3.7 assists per game over the final three contests. Oh, and he did this all while shooting 53.5 percent from the field, 40 percent from long range and 84.6 percent from the free-throw line.

The overall numbers show that Olynyk increased his scoring average and field goal percentage in each of the final three months of the season. He also set monthly season highs during April in rebounding average, assisting average, free throw attempting average and blocking average.

From start to finish this season, there may not have been any player in the league who improved as much as Olynyk did. The timid rookie who struggled to find his niche in the early days of his NBA career is long gone. A new player has arrived, one who can shoot like a star while making major contributions in other areas as well.

Those facts capture the very essence of improvement, and that’s why Olynyk is the 2014 recipient of our Most Improved Player award.