The Boston Celtics have among the deepest rosters in the entire NBA. After years of disappointment, Jared Sullinger has been a major success this season.
Prone to injury. Inconsistent. Out of shape. Overweight. A bust.
These are all terms and words that have been used to describe the young career of Jared Sullinger.
Now in his fourth season, Sullinger is in NBA shape for the first time and is slowly rounding into the high-performance player the Celtics thought they were getting when they drafted him out of Ohio State with the 21st pick in the 2012 draft.
The numbers won’t blow you off the page, but Sullinger is averaging 11.4 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, and only seems to be getting more productive since he was inserted into the starting lineup in the fourth game of the year.
A contract year often dictates how a player performs on the court. Sullinger, like many players in a walk year, has elevated his level of play (There are some exceptions, of course. Notably, on this very Celtics team).
Whether the idea of striking it rich in the offseason was Sullinger’s motivation to get in shape or it was simply to silence critics and naysayers, he is helping not only himself but his team as well. It’s not like he’s shooting 25 times per game, trying to score his way to a big pay-day.
Sullinger has shown flashes of what he’s capable of in previous seasons, when he’s been healthy. His best season was arguably his second year, in which he played in 74 games, averaging 13.5 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. Sullinger was matching those stats last season before a foot injury limited him to only 58 games.
An off season dedication to getting himself in better condition has paid off, evident in the consistent productivity he is contributing to this season’s team. He’s only averaging 24.7 minutes per game but this number is not low due to fatigue. Part of it is due to Head Coach Brad Stevens figuring out his rotation. The other is the fact the Celtics have played in a few blowout games.
Sullinger has played 30 minutes or more in three of the team’s last five games, still looking strong at the end of these games. I’m not saying Sullinger is going to be lacing up his shoes for a marathon or gearing up for a triathlon any time soon but his guidance under John Lucas is certainly working wonders for him. I don’t find it hard to imagine Sullinger averaging 35-40 minutes per game as the season wears on.
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Sullinger is unlikely to ever rise to a Tim Duncan or Dwight Howard type of all-star. His 6-foot-9 frame may prevent him from that. And he probably won’t catch Andre Drummond for the rebound lead (Drummond is averaging 18.9 rpg, nearly 80 total rebounds more than his closest competitor), but Sullinger is currently tied for seventh in offensive rebounds with 37.
That sort of knack of cleaning the glass on the offensive end is what the jump shooting Celtics need to keep pace with the upper echelon of the league.
Not that he’s a slouch on the defensive glass. Sullinger has reached double-digits in rebounds in five of his last six games, including a season-high of 15 in last Sunday’s victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Points and rebounds are not only part of Sullinger’s emergence. He has seven steals in the last four games and has shown improvement on the defensive end. Though his number of blocked shots isn’t life changing, Sullinger has collected ten on the year.
Can we anoint this season a success for Sullinger? No, we’re still a long way off for that. Instead, his early season effort should be appreciated. Hopefully he can keep up the productivity and stay healthy (fingers crossed). Then, come April, we can talk about what a solid season Sullinger had. If that’s the case, it will be a conversation that fans will hopefully have for many years to come.