The Most Intriguing Players In The NBA This Week: Kelly Olynyk Is Crucial To The Upstart Jazz

In case you blinked, we’re already three weeks into the NBA season. Every team has played double-digit games. Christmas decorations are out in droves. The Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers currently maintain the first and second seeds, respectively, in the West, and it doesn’t feel fluky. The college season is in full swing. Everything in basketball that could be happening is happening, and it’s a whirlwind. A vortex of unexpected play, promising growth, and continual advancement of the game as it ebbs and flows into what the 2022-23 season holds in store for us.

Basketball, it’s pretty special.

Without further adieu, we dive back into the Most Intriguing Players in the league this week (you can read last week’s drop here). A reminder, most intriguing does not mean the best. This is a reflection of players who have caught my eye for one reason or another. If I wasn’t reigned into a concise three player breakdown, I would be rattling off 36 percent of the league in one column, so major shout out to my editor. (Ed. note: No problem, Mark.)

Josh Green

The Dallas Mavericks are in an odd place as they start the season. Luka Doncic is off to, undeniably, one of the greatest offensive stretches we’ve seen to start a season.

But, he’s slowed down after a torrid first nine games, which is extremely understandable given his monster 39.6 percent usage rate during that span. The offense has felt kind of my turn, your turn between Doncic and Spencer Dinwiddie, and to be fair, it’s worked well. With Christian Wood out the past two games, the bench offense has struggled mightily, but the defense has remained sturdy. This is a good basketball team, although at times, it is lacking in pop and dynamism outside Doncic.

One potential solution to this: Third year wing Josh Green, who is putting together more and more consistent glimmers of oomph that are enticing.

He still doesn’t shoot a lot, but he’s shooting more, and with absurd efficacy to start the season. He’s going to be left open as he continues to cement his status as a shooter, but the signs are encouraging, even if subliminal.

Green has a fantastic feel for the game as a cutter and secondary playmaker, using his athletic gravity to make things happen in the open floor. Alongside Doncic, arguably the largest gravity swell in the league, Green can exploit pockets that wouldn’t be nearly as malleable or open playing with a less magnetic star ball-handler.

He’s capable of attacking space off the bounce, driving to continue scrambling defenses, and throwing some fantastic connective dimes to keep plays moving.

He brings a little chaos and randomness on either end, and the Mavs need more of that to keep climbing in the West. Green’s continued growth in the season is worth tracking.

Kelly Olynyk

As mentioned at the top, the Utah Jazz are 10-3, the only 10-win team in the West and the first team in the league to reach 10 wins. Lauri Markkanen looks like an All-Star and player the Jazz should prioritize in their rebuild. Jordan Clarkson is playing the best basketball of his career. The team is cohesive. It’s deep. There’s shooting and ball-handling across the board. This isn’t the best team in the West in a playoff series, but they’re putting together replicable, consistent, good play. It’s awesome.

Kelly Olynyk has been central to their success, even if he’s not the first player you’d shout out in the aggregate.

Much of Utah’s offense flows from the elbows and the perimeter, utilizing the shooting gravity of their bigs and quality decision-making they possess as DHO threats. Olynyk stirs the offense and influences it without routinely being the one finishing plays.

He toes the lines of legality as a screener, always moving juuuust subtly enough. He’s evasive in how he screens, sometimes opting to outright bulldoze, or at times dancing like a ballerina, flipping multiple times to pester a defender into inopportune lanes. Olynyk is top-notch at opening up shooters. In turn, he can dive off DHO keepers. He can playmake and score from the post. He can even run inverted pick and rolls well due to his handle and touch.

He is the turnkey that unlocks the upper percentile this offense has hit.

Part of me never wants to see this Jazz team disassembled, and the other part of me thinks about the multitude of contending teams that would benefit from his services. A reunion in Miami makes so much sense for either side. I can envision few players who fit what Golden State needs while also making them better like he could. For now, there’s no place he makes more sense in than the best team in the West.

Jerami Grant

There have been few, if any, teams more enjoyable to watch in the early season than the Portland Trail Blazers. As my colleague Jackson Frank has astutely noted, a team that was starved for wings in the past few seasons is now teeming with wings and versatile forwards throughout the roster.

Chauncey Billups’ defensive schemes make more sense with this season’s talent, running zone frequently, pressing early to slow opposition, and playing extremely connected on that end. Damian Lillard is calling out coverages and competing. Portland will close games and employ frequent lineups without a true center on the court. Their defensive activity is infectious, and their status as the fifth-best defense in the league feels sustainable.

They’re still finding their offensive form, but make no mistake, this Portland team is good. Lillard looks unhampered and back to his superstar ways. Let’s highlight someone else: Jerami Grant has been electric, and an inarguably perfect fit for this team, their playstyle, and what they needed.

While I doubt the 44 percent from deep holds, the process of Grant’s scoring and overall flow within the offense has been stellar and not something I foresaw. Most of his offense is coming off of his catch-and-drive game, something drastically improved during his time with the Pistons.

We still see some ball stopping, but the blend of isolations and face-up scoring has been a necessary addition to this team, as his ability to get to the line has been crucial to the team drawing free throws at the fourth-highest clip in the NBA.

He’s been dynamic as a rover for the defense, helping backline and at the rim. He’s been incredibly active in one of the better zone defenses I’ve seen employed in recent memory.

Grant has never really been a “go get that guy and stop him” type of defender. He’s more of a player who can guard a variety of archetypes adequately and add more value through his off-ball ranginess. Portland has put him perfectly in their defense as a multifaceted events creator. Would he make my All-Defense team at the moment? Probably not, but that I’d have to consider it is a testament to how stellar he’s been in his role.

This is the best version of Jerami Grant we’ve seen in the NBA. He knows what he needs to do in a defined role, but also has room for the creativity and on-ball chops he’s toyed with the past few seasons. Any doubts you had about what Grant could contribute in a winning role as an impactful player should be reconsidered.