Barry Jackson

Heat ready to do for Olynyk what they did for James Johnson

Miami Heat center Kelly Olynyk poses for the picture during the Media Day for the 2017-18 NBA season at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Monday, September 25, 2016.
Miami Heat center Kelly Olynyk poses for the picture during the Media Day for the 2017-18 NBA season at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Monday, September 25, 2016. dsantiago@miamiherald.com

Heat chatter on the eve of Wednesday’s season opener at Orlando:

• One of many things about this organization that players appreciate is the willingness of coaches to allow them to expand their games if they prove capable of it. We saw it last year with James Johnson given the type of ball-handling duties that Dwane Casey never afforded him in Toronto. And we’re going to see it, beginning in Wednesday’s opener, with Kelly Olynyk, the former Celtic told us.

The Heat believe Olynyk can take another jump, from pretty good NBA player to something more.

So will the Heat allow him to do things he wasn’t able to do in Boston?

"Yes," Olynyk said "They’re going to put the ball in my hands more and let me be myself and create plays and facilitate for others.

"We did a lot of stuff in Boston; we had pretty good guards with Isiah Thomas and Avery Bradley. We did a lot of screening action and playing off screens. Here it's a lot more open and guys just attacking, penetrate and kick, swing, swing and penetrate again. Just kind of free flowing - it's a little bit different from Boston. It's fun and something I enjoy."

Players have spoken of the center/power forward Olynyk having the skills of a 7-foot guard, and coach Erik Spoelstra wants to maximize those talents. Among 7-footers, only five players shot a higher percentage on three-pointers last season than Olynyk’s 35.4 percent (68 for 192): Marc and Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Karl Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis.

"The skill set offensively is everything we were hoping for and we want to be open to anything more he can become as well," Spoelstra said. "It's easy to play with somebody when they are unselfish, when they want to make the game easier for you, when they want to make the right basketball plays. Everybody wants to play with those kind of guys. That's an easy transition... he can step into any team and your offense looks better with him on the court."

The other key, Spoelstra said, is "he has himself in terrific shape. He's moving very well on both ends of the court. He has quickness and some athleticism you don't necessarily think of with him."

Heat president Pat Riley, while sitting in his office, predicted over the summer that Olynyk “will get in better shape with us [and] his game will emerge. The one area we really felt the need to shore up — what we didn’t have is stretch four/fives that are highly skilled, and that’s where Olynyk came into the equation. Sets probably the best screens in the NBA. Gets your guards in the paint. He’s an excellent passer from the elbow. We watched him for four years. He is a perfect fit for Hassan [Whiteside]. Kelly is a great outlet passer. I think he’s an excellent defender.”

• Even beyond allowing players to expand their games, the Heat does something else, too, that players appreciate.

Let Wayne Ellington explain one reason why he easily set a career mark for three-pointers made last season with 149:

"Spo said he doesn't want me pump faking. If I pump fake, I owe him a sprint. He wants me to have full confidence in my shot and let it fly. When you get your coach behind you like that, everything else is easy."

• Ellington, predicting "we will have one of the best benches in the league," has personally thanked general manager Andy Elisburg for performing salary cap magic and somehow creating cap space for his $6.3 million salary, even after signing Olynyk.

Elisburg pulled that off by including "not likely to be earned" incentives –which don’t count against the cap – in deals for Olynyk and Dion Waiters.

"I have already thanked him, but thank you again Andy if you read this," Ellington said. "I am very appreciative of Andy and the way he put it together for us to be able to stay. My hope is this is home for me [permanently]." Miami has his Early Bird rights next summer.

• Elisburg, incidentally, will be inducted into the St. Thomas University Bobcat Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday, November 5 at the University’s ninth annual Stone Crab Dinner for Athletics.

The event begins at 6 p.m. at the Fernandez Family Center on the St. Thomas campus and includes an all-you-can-eat stone crab dinner with Bobcat student-athletes serving as wait staff. All proceeds benefit the operations of the 14 St. Thomas University athletic teams. Sponsorships and individual seats are available; go to www.stu.edu/stonecrabdinner for tickets.

• Coming to the Heat has been eye-opening for Olynyk. "Everybody is better than I thought they were," he said. "I didn't know Josh Richardson had that much stuff to his game. Wayne can really, really shoot; you already knew that but you didn't know the pace he operates at every single rep. It's unbelievable.

"The biggest thing is everybody in here works their butt off every single day. It's really impressive from the top down, including coaches, video guys, trainers. That’s something you come to respect and come to enjoy." 

Here’s my 12 pack of UM nuggets tonight, including a potential lineup change and Mark Richt assessing the state of his program... Here my Dolphins post today, including two NBC analysts explaining why they’re bullish on the Dolphins.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

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