Jared Sullinger: When do the Boston Celtics Panic?


In five preseason games the Boston Celtics’ frontcourt rotation is starting to take shape and forward Jared Sullinger is making a weak case for his spot in it. Amidst all the talk that Sullinger was going to come into the 2015-2016 in better shape, there has been little evidence on the court to bolster this claim. He looks like the same player that he was last year, which is a disappointment because his contract is expiring.

If Sullinger states that he’s more fit and in better shape than last year, then isn’t it reasonable to assume that his game should improve? Regardless of whether he’s in shape or out of shape, he’s not playing like someone who is in his contract year. Sullinger’s solid 2014-2015 season set up high hopes for this season, but he might not live up to the expectations based on his preseason performance.

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In the first preseason game against Olimpia Milano, Sullinger had a strong performance. He scored 14 points on 7/10 shooting and collected four rebounds off the bench. Since then Sully has shot 20% (5/25) from the field, averaging 4.5 points and 5.3 rebounds in 13.8 minutes, which are not the numbers of someone who expects to be in the frontcourt rotation.

In five games total, his confusing shot chart is far from impressive:

Jared Sullinger’s Shot Chart 2015-2016 Through 10/19/15 Credit: NBA.com/Stats

In the preseason, Sullinger has only attempted five 3-pointers and has taken 8 shots from 15-19ft (per NBA.com/stats). His decision to take more long 2s is troubling, since he did not shy away from shooting 3s during the last few seasons and our hope is that he would try to improve his 3-point shooting. It’s also frustrating to see him choosing to take difficult contested jump shots, which are considered low percentage shots.

His shots are mostly short and hitting the front of the rim, which could be from tired legs (another sign he’s not in the shape he says he’s in). Four games is an early point to begin strictly assessing Sullinger’s preseason, but if what we’ve seen is any indication of what’s to come, there is a problem.

In addition to Sullinger not doing himself any favors, his frontcourt teammates are playing better than he is. David Lee has filled in nicely as Boston’s point forward; Tyler Zeller has been consistent per usual. Amir Johnson has been a workhorse and Kelly Olynyk has silenced his critics with more aggressive play.

Sullinger is aware that he might be the odd man out and he’s okay with that. He seems fine with it, especially if it means doing what’s best for the Celtics:

"I just want us to win. If that’s me cutting back my minutes, that’s me cutting back my minutes, but the ultimate goal is to win basketball games. That’s the ultimate goal as a team, as a unit. Going forward, it’s a long season so you never know what’s going to happen. You just have to stay ready."

Sullinger’s apparent descent in the depth chart is unfortunate, but simply part of the game. If you don’t perform, you won’t play. The Sullinger bandwagon is becoming thinner and thinner and now the question is: when do the Celtics do something about him and what can they do?

Apr 8, 2015; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jared Sullinger (7) shoots the ball as Detroit Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince (22) defends during the second quarter at The Palace of Auburn Hills. The Celtics won 113-103. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

It makes the most sense for the Celtics to trade Sullinger, assuming they are not going the extend him. Ainge doesn’t like letting expiring players walk away without getting something in return, so don’t expect Sullinger to go for nothing in the event he doesn’t reach an extension with the team.

However, don’t expect a trade to happen right away. The team will likely listen to offers and at the earliest could decide to deal him near the extension deadline like the Oklahoma City Thunder did when they traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets in 2012. If not, the Celtics could dangle Sullinger around the trade deadline and let him build his value.

I would advocate for trading Sullinger near the trade deadline in order to let him improve his value. The Celtics might be able to get more for Sullinger if they wait. During the regular season as players get injured and/or underperform, the demand for Sullinger will rise, meaning that teams could overpay in order to fill a void on their roster.

That’s what Ainge did with Rajon Rondo (who like Sullinger was also in the final year of his contract) last year and look how well it turned out for the Celtics. There’s a chance that Sullinger can be this year’s Rondo.

The Boston Celtics proved that they can succeed without Sullinger and they did last season when he missed time due to a stress fracture. The team went 14-11 in his absence and with an even deeper frontcourt this season, he is that much more expendable.

On October 26th the rosters will be set for opening night, so around then we might have a clearer idea of what to make of the Sullinger situation. The Celtics need some confirmation that their rotation clicks in the regular season, so Sullinger might remain in the picture—for now.

Next: Boston Celtics: Takeaways from the Fourth Preseason Game

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