Olynyk thriving as playmaking centre for Raptors

TORONTO – When starting point guard Immanuel Quickley stepped away from the Toronto Raptors, it was not obvious who would set up the team’s offence. All-star forward Scottie Barnes usually took over play-making duties with the team’s second unit, but he was already out with a broken hand.

Enter six-foot-11 backup centre Kelly Olynyk.

“Someone’s got to do it,” laughed Olynyk on Monday a day after leading Toronto with 11 assists in a 135-120 loss to the visiting Philadelphia 76ers. “I’m just trying to help the young guys and make it a little bit easier on them.

“Get us some easy looks, some easy baskets, keep the continuity and flow of the offence a little bit because when you don’t have guys who make a bunch of plays for others, it gets a little stagnant and it’s tough to play like that.”

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Olynyk, from Kamloops, B.C., may be modest about his contributions as a playmaker, but he has dished out 43 assists over his last five games, the most assists in a five-game span in his 11-season career. He’s had at least eight assists in a career-high four straight games, the longest active streak in the NBA.

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“They’re playing through me a lot more,” said Olynyk, who played point guard in high school. “I guess I’m the primary playmaker.

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“We’ve got a bunch of shooters and cutters and different guys on the floor, but we’re kind of playing through me at the top a lot more.”

Although Olynyk’s been handling the playmaking responsibilities with Quickley (personal reasons), Barnes (broken hand) and swingman RJ Barrett (personal reasons) of Mississauga, Ont., out of the lineup, he’s also been promoted to starting centre because Jakob Poeltl (torn ligament in hand) is also hurt.

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Barrett and Quickley were listed as probable when Toronto, who have lost 13 straight games, hosted the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday and will likely take over bringing the ball up the court, but Olynyk will continue to start at centre with no timetable for Poeltl’s return.

“(Olynyk’s) very gifted. He’s one of those players that just have an amazing feel for the game,” said head coach Darko Rajakovic. “He’s patient.

“I think he’s doing a better job, especially lately, of taking care of of the ball.”

Olynyk is not the only Toronto player tasked with doing something outside his comfort zone as the team deals with a host of injuries and other issues. Six-foot-five Garrett Temple has been serving as Olynyk’s backup at centre with Poeltl and Jontay Porter (personal reasons) unavailable.

“He’s a point five right now,” said Rajakovic on the 37-year-old Temple’s conversion from small forward to centre. “He’s just a very smart player, he knows the league, we really simplified our offensive playbook as well so it’s easier for guys to know what they’re doing and where to be on the court.

“Being organized is the biggest thing we need and can have now and he’s really good at recognizing and putting us in those situations.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 2, 2024.

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