It's mid-November and only Kelly Olynyk's fourth game of the 2016-17 season minus a headband and after missing the start of the season while rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery. Coming off two solid offensive outings, Olynyk can't get anything to fall. The Boston Celtics' floor-stretching 7-footer misses seven of the eight shots he puts up, including six 3-pointers, during Boston's head-shaking loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.
An immediate fix is needed for this brief funk. So two days later, when the Celtics host the Dallas Mavericks, Olynyk ditches the man bun he had been sporting in favor of a headband for his shoulder-length locks. It works, at least temporarily, as Olynyk has a much better shooting night and the Celtics get back in the win column.
Olynyk's choice of hairstyle has been notable the past couple of seasons if only because longer hair is unique in the NBA. But an interesting trend started to emerge last season: Olynyk typically performed better with the more trendy man bun than with a basic headband. And the splits are even more pronounced this season.
Through 47 appearances this season, Olynyk is averaging more than twice as many points with a man bun (10.9) than with a headband (5.1). What's more, his shooting percentages are much higher with the bun (54.1 percent overall) than without (39.2). Olynyk is plus-79 in plus/minus over 32 games with the bun and minus-53 with a headband over 15 games.
Is it all happenstance? Probably. But there was enough of a sample size that it seemed worthy of checking with Olynyk to see what goes into deciding which style he will utilize on a nightly basis.
"You know, there isn’t a lot of science behind it," said Olynyk, who took a good-natured approach to the lighthearted topic. "It’s kinda however I’m feeling. I feel like if something is not working, I have to switch it up. So I kinda go back and forth."
Presented with this season's splits, Olynyk laughed and admitted the numbers were hard to ignore. But pressed on whether the headband look could be hindering him at all, he presented a solid counterargument.
"I don’t think so because all throughout college I never wore a man bun once," Olynyk said. "If you look at the college numbers, I would say [the hair] wasn’t in the way."
Olynyk seems to be sticking with the man bun more often lately. He has worn a headband just twice (both wins) since the start of the new calendar year, while the bun has been featured in 16 of his past 17 games.
Since the start of January, Olynyk is averaging 11 points per game on 57.5 percent shooting overall, including a 38.8 percent mark beyond the 3-point arc. Olynyk scored 19 points -- matching his second-highest output of the season -- while aiding a strong bench effort as the shorthanded Celtics defeated the Utah Jazz on Saturday night.
Regardless of hairstyle, the Celtics need more of that from Olynyk in order to remain near the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Boston enters the final week before the All-Star break as the No. 2 team in the East and sits just 2.5 games back of the defending champ Cleveland Cavaliers (and 2.5 games ahead of the surging Washington Wizards).
Unlike past seasons, the Celtics' numbers have been better this season when Olynyk is off the floor. But, especially as Boston navigates long stretches with injuries that deplete its depth, it's clear that Olynyk is a vital presence for a second unit that often needs a scoring jolt.
Defensively, Olynyk has done what he usually does: put himself in the right spots and make sound decisions. Yes, he struggles at times in one-on-one matchups against stronger big men but Olynyk is an excellent help defender who thrives in large part by positioning. He's the team-leader in charges drawn and the league's defensive tracking data suggests he holds opponents to 59.4 percent shooting within 6 feet of the basket (which is 1.9 percent lower than those players' season average that close to the basket).
Olynyk gets some grief for his long hair, though teammates have typically approved of the look. The Celtics ran an in-game video last season in which teammates were asked to give their thoughts on the man bun. Said Isaiah Thomas, "I give my guy a thumbs up. The man bun I guess is in nowadays, and he does it well. He wears it well."
Teammates give Olynyk more flak for his ever-present baseball cap. Teammates like to joke that the first thing Olynyk typically puts on after showering is a hat. And he can't argue that point.
But he also doesn't stress too much about headwear. After seeing the man bun/headband data, Olynyk promised he wouldn't start overthinking which style to utilize. He's fine with whatever the splits say so long as he's able to have a positive impact on the Celtics and the team continues to win games.