A Boston Celtics beat reporter greeted Heat backup center Kelly Olynyk with a smile and a question after Saturday morning’s shootaround at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“So where is the rest of you?” the reporter asked Olynyk.
“You mean this?” the 7-footer responded as he laughed, lifted his T-shirt a little and motioned to his stomach.
Olynyk wasn’t fat by NBA standards his first four seasons in the league with the Celtics. He just wasn’t in Miami Heat shape.
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That’s changed since he signed a four-year, $50 million deal this summer with Miami, a deal which includes a $1 million bonus if Olynyk plays more than 1,700 minutes this season (he has never played more than 1,538). The slimmer, trimmer Olynyk said he feels like he has a lot more in the tank now and can run for days after losing 16 pounds with the help of the Heat’s training staff.
At 241 pounds, he has already begun to show signs that he can be one of the best players in the league at something coach Erik Spoelstra loves to see his players do — draw charges. Entering Saturday, Olynyk was tied with Raptors All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry for the most charges drawn in the league with five.
“I’ve lost a lot of weight and it’s hard to bang in there,” Olynyk said after practice Friday. “So sometimes other people just [knock] you over and you go with it.
“You’re trying to beat somebody to a spot, and if they’re going to go through you, then you got to go down. In this league and the way it’s played today, sometimes if you try to stand your ground and try to resist and you go into them, now they flop and now it’s your fault. So why take the risk? It’s a turnover, it’s your ball and now you’re going the other way.”
Last season, Olynyk drew 14 charges. The most any Heat player had in 2016-17 was Willie Reed, who had nine.
Last season, the Heat ranked 26th in the league in charges drawn (29). Before Miami signed Hassan Whiteside, one of the league’s best shot blockers, the Heat used to be one of the best teams in the league at drawing charges, with Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier leading the effort.
Spoelstra likes that Olynyk, who has averaged 0.5 blocks per game for his career, brings that element back some to the Heat — especially with Whiteside out.
“We just want our guys to have some kind of presence in the paint, whatever your strength zone may be,” Spoelstra said. “For a lot of our guys, that’s to challenge at the rim and use your athleticism and length to make those plays tough. But other guys, [drawing charges is] their strength. KO has a great knack for it. He has the courage to take them, and we’re the kind of the organization that likes those kinds of plays.
“He only has about 970 more [to go] to catch up to UD. He’s on his way, though.”
Ultimately, Spoelstra is just pleased Olynyk has fully committed himself to the Heat way “all across the board.”
“I mean, every professional athlete should be their optimal self and in world-class shape, and then you can start talking about the game,” Spoelstra said. “But before that, it’s about your body. He’s committed to the process. He’s lost a lot of weight, really dropped body fat. We just think it makes him more efficient with his movement. The game has gotten quicker, faster even for centers. So you have to be able to cover ground on both ends. But particularly defensively, you have to be quicker.”
Spoelstra said Saturday that Whiteside, who missed his fourth consecutive game with a bone bruise in his left knee but began doing drills with Heat assistant Juwan Howard on Friday, is still not ready for a practice yet.
Miami generally likes for its players to go through a full-contact practice before clearing them for a return. The Heat closes out a season-long six-game homestand with games Monday against the Timberwolves and Wednesday against the Bulls. It’s conceivable that Whiteside could miss the entire homestand.
“We’re going to be in constant communication as he rehabs and does treatment and starts to get back into the mix and that’s why we’re just continuing to say he’s day by day, because that’s what he is,” Spoelstra said of Whiteside.
“We’ve been through enough of these kind of situations. We have ways of being creative [as far as if he needs to have a full contact practice to return]. It would be ideal to have a perfect five-on-five practice. If we don’t, I’m sure we can gather up some guys to get something done.”
WILLIAMS JR. REASSIGNED TO SIOUX FALLS
The Heat on Saturday assigned two-way player and three-point specialist Matt Williams Jr. to it’s G-League affiliate in Sioux Falls. The UCF product used five days’ worth of his 45-day limit under the terms of the two-way contract.
Spoelstra said Williams Jr. got a lot of being wiht the Heat for four regular season games – even if he didn’t play.
“I think all the level of detail that he saw in the pro game... all the things that go into the preparation, and then having somebody like Wayne Ellington as a role model, to be able to see his routine every since day, which really is a remarkable routine, I think that was invaluable for him,” Spoelstra said. “And so now he gets to be able to take that back to Sioux Falls, finish up training camp with them, but then get some minutes and time.”