Recognized by many as a top-10, or even top-five, talent in this year's 2012 NBA draft, Sullinger dropped to the Celtics due to concerns surrounding bulging discs in his back. With a low-risk, high-reward scenario, it was a no-brainer pick for the Celtics, who envision Sullinger being a big impact player down the road.
The 6'9'' power forward showed no signs of an aching back during the NBA's Las Vegas Summer League where he averaged 13.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game while averaging just over 28 minutes on the floor.
The Celtics' additional draft picks, fellow first-rounder Fab Melo (1.8 points/game, 4.8 rebounds/game) and second-round pick Kris Joseph (9.4 point/game 5.8 rebounds/game), both from Syracuse, put up mediocre numbers to further emphasize Sullinger's clear position as the rookie favored to make an impact and win playing time.
During his two years at Ohio State, Sullinger was a two-time First-Team AP All-American, which makes him the second player drafted by the Celtics to achieve this distinction, according to Jay King of CelticsTown. The other player? Celtics legend Larry Bird. That's not bad company for Sullinger to be in.
He averaged a double-double during his freshman year at Ohio State (17.2 points/game, 10.2 rebounds/game) and nearly missed repeating that feat in his sophomore season (17.5 points/game, 9.2 rebounds/game). While it will take a few years for Sullinger to replicate those numbers in the NBA, it is not completely unfathomable to see his Summer League stats continue over to the regular season once he gets some solid time off the bench.
Sullinger will be playing behind Brandon Bass at the power forward position and could also see some time at small forward. Bass ranked fourth on the team, grabbing 5.3 rebounds/game and was part of a Celtics squad that was pitiful on the boards last season, recording 38.8 rebounds/game, good for dead last in the NBA.
Sullinger's ability to rebound, and rebound effectively, especially on the offensive side of the ball, will give him playing time late in games.
Another reason to get Sullinger into the game in the waning minutes is his knack for getting to the free throw line and converting. Despite being undersized for his position, Sullinger's poise and technique under the basket is nearly flawless, and his intelligence to draw a foul or dish the ball to an outside shooter will prove valuable. He shot 90 percent from the free-throw line in summer league and combined for a 73 percent free-throw percentage in his two years in college.
The Ohio State alum is already a polished player. This is common knowledge to NBA analysts. By limiting his playing time early in the season and with proper conditioning, Sullinger can stay healthy and become a reliable asset to a Celtics team with the most depth its seen in the past couple years.
Jay King of CelticsTown also reported that Sullinger "has already hired a personal chef to improve his conditioning."
Along with his ability to post up and adjust his body to get the ball in the hoop, the power forward has a respectable mid-range jump shot that falls somewhere between the talents of Bass and Kevin Garnett.
Will Sullinger play a significant role for the Celtics this season?
Sullinger was able to record a 40 percent field-goal percentage during summer league, which is lower than the 52 percent he tallied last year at Ohio State but equal to his 40 percent three-point field goal percentage over the same year. With the likes of Paul Pierce, and new arrivals, Jason Terry and Courtney Lee, on the court, Sullinger should not expect to take many, if any, three balls this season. However, if the shot is there, the occasional shot behind the arc may be launched.
Coach Doc Rivers is known to be stringent on first year players in terms of minutes. Just ask E'Twaun Moore (8.7 minutes/game) and JaJuan Johnson (8.3 minutes/game), both of whom were shipped away in the three team trade that brought Courtney Lee to Boston. Even Avery Bradley, who, if healthy, is expected to see significant playing time this season, averaged just 5.3 minutes/game in his rookie season.
Sullinger has NBA-ready talent and while there will be a learning curve at the start of the season, once his skills are sharpened, Sullinger will justify why he was the biggest steal in the draft.