The Boston Celtics were lucky enough to have two first-round selections in the 2012 NBA Draft, and with that pair of picks at Nos. 21 and 22, the Celtics chose Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, two big men who should, at the very least, fill a big need on Boston: size.
The question is, which rookie will have more success in his first year?
As far as which player is more NBA-ready, it isn't even a question: it's Sullinger. Even though he only played two years at Ohio State, the 20-year-old is incredibly polished, possessing a refined low post game and displaying range all the way out to the three-point line in college. He is also a very good rebounder, demonstrating great technique in pulling down boards. It doesn't hurt that Sullinger has a 6'9", 265 lb. frame in that regard ,either.
Sullinger has already flashed his skills in summer league, as he has looked like a man among boys at times throughout the team's first few games.
Melo, well, he is a bit more complicated. He undoubtedly has great raw talent, and at seven-foot, 255 lbs., he obviously has great size. That said, it's going to take a bit more time for him to reach his full potential, and the C's will have to be patient with him.
While Melo hasn't been awful thus far in summer league, he hasn't been lighting it up, either, and I really think it has more to do with confidence than anything else. It's almost like he is afraid to try and score, and it seems to me that he's pressing. If he just relaxes and realizes that he has the ability to become a very good player in this league, I think he'll be alright, and it will certainly help having the likes of Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett in his corner.
One thing I have noticed about Melo though is that he is a surprisingly good passer. This tells me that his basketball IQ might take a bit of a bad rap. Passing is something that not a lot of big men can do effectively, For Melo to be able to pinpoint his passes and deliver them at the right time, it shows that he has a bit more basketball savvy than people give him credit for.
Now, back to the original question: who will have more rookie success, Sullinger or Melo?
I am going to approach this question from two different angles, because I really don't think it is that cut-and-dry.
The first way I am going to look at this is who will look more comfortable and who will settle in more. For me, it's simple. The answer is Sullinger.
As I have already stated, Sullinger is more than prepared for the daily grind of the NBA, as he is certainly the more skilled of the two players. I expect the Celtics to gradually make him a rather integral part of the offense, as he has the kind of low post game that is not too common in today's league. Having a guy with his prowess down low is invaluable, and I expect Rivers to take full advantage of that.
Expect to see sets run specifically for Sullinger this season. Maybe not right away, as the former Buckeye needs to get his feet wet first, but as the year progresses, I fully anticipate that Rivers will make a concerted effort to get him the basketball in the post, provided he is comfortable in the offense, of course.
The inside game that Sullinger will likely bring to the table will open up everything else in Boston's offense, and, most importantly, it will make Garnett's job a whole lot easier. Now, K.G. is not the only member of the C's who can score with his back to the basket, and that will take a great amount of pressure off of him.
So, as far as who will be more of a "part" of the team and who will get more minutes, it's Sullinger.
Now, here is the other way I am going to look at this: who will get the Celtics further? Sullinger or Melo?
My answer? Melo, and here's why.
It was very evident this past season that Boston severely lacked an interior presence on the defensive end. Garnett was really the only one who was willing to throw his weight around by fighting for rebounds and contesting shots and committing fouls around the basket to prevent easy buckets, and let's face it: K.G. is not the type of player who is going to put opponents on their backs. He is one of the greatest defensive players of all-time, but he is not Kendrick Perkins in the sense that opposing players feared driving into the lane because they will get clobbered.
Melo could be that guy for the C's this year. He certainly has the size and strength for it, and with Garnett directing him on the defensive end, expect the Syracuse product to have an immediate impact on that size of the floor, and expect it to pay huge dividends for the Celtics.
Melo might never be as fearsome as Perkins, as Perkins' attitude is truly a rare thing, but he will at least deter players such as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade from driving to the basket, as he will, at the very least, be there to contest their shots. He is a mammoth of a man, and don't think for a second that he won't make K.G.'s job easier defensively in the same sense that Sullinger will offensively.
Defense is what wins championships, and the ability to come up with big rebounds to prevent second chance opportunities doesn't hurt, either. The Celtics got killed on the boards at crucial times in 2012, and it cost them many games that they otherwise should have won. That will change with Melo in tow this year.
So, while Sullinger will be the guy putting points on the board, Melo will be the guy helping prevent them, and I think the latter is more important.
Sullinger will be the better player, but I think Melo will be more important to Boston's success.