Kelly Olynyk likes to live a simple life.
Even though he just signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Miami Heat in July, Olynyk doesn’t own a big, multimillion dollar beachfront home or even a car. Instead, the 7-foot, 245-pound Canadian with long blond hair walks to practices and games every day from the hotel room he’s renting near AmericanAirlines Arena.
“I’m just kind of getting by a little light,” Olynyk said last week at Heat media day. “There’s a lot to life. Not all of it is material.
“Growing up not having a plethora of money you can live fine. You didn’t need it then so what’s really different now? If you’re wearing clothes or shoes that are $1,000 or $10, they’re doing the job right? Cars or whatever, they both get you from A to B.”
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The same way Olynyk, 26, appears to be a different kind of NBA multimillionaire off the court, he proved to be a similarly unique weapon in Sunday’s preseason opening win against the Atlanta Hawks.
Playing as the backup center to Hassan Whiteside, coach Erik Spoelstra deployed Olynyk Sunday alongside a trio of ballhandlers in Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and three-point specialist Wayne Ellington in Miami’s second unit. It allowed Olynyk to play to his strengths in a free-flowing, perimeter-oriented, mostly unscripted attack.
The unit thrived – especially in the second half when Olynyk scored all nine of his points and dished out beautiful assists for easy layups and scores. That’s when Miami finally separated itself from the Hawks. Olynyk finished with a team-high five assists and five turnovers, but was plus 15 for the game.
“Kelly is a smart, high IQ player,” Spoelstra said after Saturday’s Red, White and Pink scrimmage at FAU. “So, a lot of the things that we like to do just fits naturally with him. We’re actually going a little bit retro, going back two or three years with some of the actions we used to do.”
The Heat had that same vision for Josh McRoberts when it signed him to a four-year, $23 million deal in 2014. But McRoberts could never stay healthy.
Sunday there were many times Olynyk, who played guard growing up, pushed the ball up the floor after a rebound and cranked up the Heat’s offense.
“Kelly is like a point center,” Ellington said. “He’s such a big trigger for us and he creates so many actions. It really makes that group and that unit dynamic.”
Rodney McGruder said Olynyk is “a matchup nightmare for most fives” in the league.
“I hate guarding Kelly,” Whiteside said. “Most bigs, they flare and they shoot. But he’ll shoot, pump fake, go to the basket, he’s physical and then he knows how to get the calls.”
Having a center who can push the ball up the floor and get a team into offense is rare in the NBA.
“The only other team that I see doing something like that is like a Golden State with Draymond [Green] pushing it,” Ellington said. “But he doesn’t shoot it as well as Kelly. It’s tough to guard. You got to be out there on shooters and you got guys that can really attack the basket and it opens it up for them.”
Said Winslow: “That second group was a lot of fun, the way we really just spaced the floor. A lot of versatility, a lot of floor spacers. That second group can be special for this team.”
Spoelstra said some of the plays the Heat ran with its second unit were scripted, but says it’s more dynamic when the unit plays unscripted and “it’s a little bit more read and react.”
“We’re open right now, open to seeing where this can go, where we can maximize [Olynyk’s] skill set as much as possible,” Spoelstra said. “Guys like playing with him.”
Because they play such different styles Spoelstra said he’s had Olynyk and Whiteside go at each other every day in practice. Eventually, Spoelstra said, he’ll start having them play side-by-side to see how that lineup looks.
Olynyk said playing in the Heat’s positionless, versatile system is “definitely different” than what he did with the Celtics. This system, he said, allows him to bring more to the table than he had in the past as far as facilitating, handling the ball and making plays.
“In Boston it was a little more scripted although we did have some free-flowing stuff,” he said. “But there guys knew their roles and stuff and their positions. Here it’s like everybody does everything, which maks it really tough to guard, really tough to scout. I remember playing Miami and you had to have the [power forwards] guarding the ball and the [centers] doing this and that and guards guarding screen and rolls. It’s really tough. It’s not what teams guard on a regular basis and it makes it really tough and really unique. It’s fun to play in as well.”
Olynyk said he’s still figuring out how to play with his new teammates and figures it will take time.
“I’m just getting used to everybody’s style – where they like the ball, what they like to do, tendencies, that kind of stuff,” Olynyk said.
It’s the same story on the defensive end. But Spoelstra is confident Olynyk will figure it out quickly.
“Everything will improve once I know what they want to accomplish and get a few more practices and stuff under my belt and you know the tendencies and stuff,” he said. “But just knowing where your teammates are and where you want to force guys and what they want to do, that’s what it comes down to.”
Players say having two units with two distinct styles is going to be beneficial in the long run for the Heat.
“I think it’s really going to keep us fresh,” Ellington said. “I think it’s really going to be an advantage. It’s a long season. So to be able to be that deep, that versatile and that dynamic, that just makes us a different team.”
Whiteside said the Heat, with its diverse second unit, are now a much harder team team to scout.
“We got options,” Whiteside said. “So you can take this option or you can take that option, but it’s going to work out for us either way.”