No one had a problem with the Boston Celtics selecting Jared Sullinger with the 21st overall pick of the draft this June. The former Ohio State star was widely considered to be the best player left on the board when the Celtics were selecting and also one of the most NBA ready players in the entire draft. However, despite his obvious skill set and outstanding college career, people have been quick to point out Sullinger's flaws and express doubts about his ability to make it in the pros. Some of these concerns are legitimate, some are not, so the question of what to expect from Sullinger in his rookie year is a difficult one.
The first and most important thing to remember about Sullinger is that he is a rookie, and rookies have not done much for Boston in recent years. Celtic coach Doc Rivers is famously impatient with young players and tends not to give them much playing time, opting instead to go with his veterans. However Sullinger should dodge some of these typical rookie speed bumps for a couple of reasons. First and foremost he is more NBA ready than most rookies, but more importantly; Rivers loves him. Every time Rivers has been questioned about Sullinger since Boston picked him the Celtic coach has positively gushed. He loves his ability to pass. He loves his ability to shoot, to rebound, to set picks. He loves everything about him. Even GM Danny Ainge noted how Rivers wouldn't shut up about Sullinger. Avery Bradley barely played his during his rookie year with the C's. Jajuan Johnson played even less, so it would make sense not to expect much out of Sullinger this year simply because he might not get on the floor. But Rivers is crazy about him, so C's fans shouldn't temper their expectations too much.
The biggest thing to like about Sullinger is his scoring. The kid has a myriad of post moves and can knock down jump shots all the way out to the three point line. Many think that his game wont translate to the NBA because he is undersized and has limited athleticism, and there is something to that. He is a bit short for an NBA power forward, and he doesn't have great hops so he will probably struggle against the bigger forwards of the NBA today. The kid is going to get his shot blocked, and get it blocked a lot, but here's the thing – scoring is an ability all its' own. Sullinger simply knows how to score. For a parallel look a Glen Davis, who the Celtics were able to get in the second round of the 2007 draft because everyone thought his lack of size and athleticism would hold him back in the NBA. Davis took some time to adjust to the pros, one year leading the league in getting his own shot blocked, but he gradually figured out which shots he could get off and which ones he couldn't and has been an excellent offensive player ever since. The ceiling is even higher for Sullinger because he has better range and has already added a few face up moves to his repertoire, something Davis never did. He's not going to light it up like he did with the Buckeyes, but he will score. He loves contact and knows how to find the blue sky. Scorers find a way to score, and Sullinger is a scorer.
That being said Sullinger is not going to get a whole lot of looks this year. Rivers loves him so he's going to play, but he's going to be on the floor with a second unit that features Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Jeff Green. Those guys are going to take most of the shots. They will give him a few looks in the post and he will have the opportunity to knock down some open jumpers, but he's not going to be a huge difference maker in terms of offensive production. Where he can really help the team is with his rebounding. The Celtics have been murdered on the boards ever since Kendrick Perkins left town. Their best rebounder is Kevin Garnett, and despite his number KG is not really a great rebounder. He's tall and athletic so he gets a lot of rebounds, but he's not a wide body and really doesn't box out, so he's actually pretty poor at keeping other teams of the offensive glass. Sullinger has none of these problems. While only 6'9" he is a load at 260 lbs and boxes out as well as anyone you'll see in the league. He gets position effortlessly and gobbles up rebounds like their going out of style. The Celtics will still give up a lot of second chance points as the starters will still be awful in this department, but Sullinger will help limit the total damage.
Overall Celtic fans should have high hopes for Sullinger this year. He is going to get serious minutes and will have a big impact for the C's this year. He will have to make some adjustmenst to his offensive game, and he is not going to get a whole lot of looks so no one should expect huge point totals. However his rebounding will be a major asset and it's not unreasonable to expect a few big offensive gamesagainst bad teams. It wouldn't even be a stretch to expect a few big nights, or at least big plays, in the playoffs. Teams that want to make deep playoff runs need a few guys to come out of nowhere a la Glen Davis and Nate Robinson for the 2010 Celtics. Sullinger could easily be that guy in 2012-2013.
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