DETROIT, MICHIGAN - MARCH 23: Kelly Olynyk #13 of the Detroit Pistons lifts his arms before the game against the Atlanta Hawks at Little Caesars Arena on March 23, 2022 in Detroit, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)

2021-22 Rewind: Missed time dimmed Olynyk’s star in first Pistons season

When the Pistons point to the prospect of internal improvement as perhaps the most significant component of the jump they expect to take next season as a team, they’re quite naturally speaking with the nine players 23 or younger on the roster at season’s end in mind.

But you can include their oldest player, Kelly Olynyk, in the mix, too. Olynyk wound up missing more than half the season, 42 games, the bulk of them with an early-season knee injury that left a major hole in Dwane Casey’s bench unit. When he returned and hit his stride in mid-February, Olynyk played a big role in the best stretch of the Pistons season.

Here's a look at Olynyk’s past, present and future:

PROFILE: 6-foot-11 center/forward, 31 years old, 9 NBA seasons

2021-22 STATS: 9.1 points, 4.4 rebounds on .527 2-point shooting and .336 3-point shooting in 19 minutes a game over 40 games

STATUS: Olynyk has two years left on a reported three-year contract he signed as a free agent with the Pistons last summer

DID YOU KNOW?: Olynyk grew up in the greater Toronto area and was part of a basketball family. His mother, Arlene, refereed Canadian college games and served as a Toronto Raptors scorekeeper for a decade starting in the mid-’90s. His father, Ken, coached at the University of Toronto, with the Canadian junior national team and more recently at the University of British Columbia. Olynyk, who also played quarterback in high school, played as a youth on teams with current Pistons teammate Cory Joseph and they’ve remained teammates on the Canadian national team.

A LOOK BACK: Olynyk’s unique skill set for a big man was developed in large part before he hit a growth spurt that saw him add 7 inches to reach 6-foot-10 over a year during his high school days. He went to Gonzaga and had middling success for his first two seasons before requesting to redshirt – a rare move midway through a college career – for the 2011-12 season to reshape his body and refine his skills. It worked magnificently as Olynyk averaged 17.8 points and 7.3 rebounds in 2012-13 for a team that went 32-3 and finished the regular season at No. 1 in the polls. Olynyk bypassed his last year of eligibility and was taken with the 13th pick in the 2013 NBA draft, spending his first four seasons in Boston where he primarily served as a high-level reserve who averaged between 20 and 22 minutes a game each season for teams that went to the playoffs every year. Olynyk signed as a free agent with Miami in 2017 and spent 3½ seasons with the Heat, starting 40 percent of the 265 games spent there. Olynyk’s best season was 2020-21 when he started 62 games and averaged 13.5 points and 7.0 rebounds. The final 27 games came when he was traded to Houston and averaged 19.0 points and 8.4 rebounds for the Rockets.

THE SEASON THAT WAS: Olynyk was brought on by the Pistons to anchor the second unit, allowing 20-year-old Isaiah Stewart to step into the starting lineup, but a knee injury suffered 10 games into the season derailed those plans. Olynyk missed more than two months after sustaining the injury in a Nov. 10 game at Houston, returning on Jan. 19 with perhaps his best outing of the season – 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists in 22 minutes of a comeback win at Sacramento – only to endure a bout of COVID-19 one game later that shelved Olynyk for four more games and had lingering impact for at least two more weeks after that. When the Pistons played their best basketball of the season, going 11-11 over a six-week stretch, Olynyk was often at the heart of it. His game-winning jump shot at Charlotte on Feb. 27 came amid a 20-point, eight-rebound outing. Olynyk had never played fewer than 64 games in his first eight NBA seasons and admitted that being out for a prolonged stretch was disorienting for him, but he closed the season strong and healthy to allow a full off-season of preparation ahead of his second season in Detroit.

A LOOK AHEAD: The mid-season acquisition of Marvin Bagley III gave the Pistons an element of athleticism in their frontcourt to complement Olynyk and Stewart. Assuming the Pistons retain Bagley in free agency this off-season, Dwane Casey will have plenty of lineup flexibility at his disposal for 2021-22. Olynyk’s ability to operate comfortably on the perimeter and serve as a facilitator can mesh well with either Stewart or Bagley should Weaver want to play big men in tandem. Should Bagley or Stewart show progress in their development as perimeter threats, Olynyk’s canniness as an interior scorer and playmaker will allow the young big men the freedom to spread their wings. Olynyk’s versatility, instincts, professionalism and vast experience as part of playoff teams make him an easy fit with any team and the subject of frequent trade speculation. The fact the third year of the free-agent contract he signed with the Pistons is only partially guaranteed only amplifies such speculation. But Casey and Pistons general manager Troy Weaver have made clear their desire to both have a veteran presence in the locker room and to field competitive lineups next season and Olynyk helps check both boxes. A healthy Olynyk will be a rotation certainty for the Pistons next season unless the Pistons see a clear win in trade offers.

MONEY QUOTE: “It’s very important. It’s huge because he’s a good 3-point shooter and his IQ is off the charts. His size – he’s different. He has a different type of game, a different type of gait. We haven’t seen that Kelly since the injuries. You feel for him because he works so hard to get back and then comes down with COVID.”  – Dwane Casey in late March on the importance of getting Olynyk back in form next season