It was only one year ago that Jared Sullinger was considered to be a lottery pick on draft night, but a medical red-flagged back found him slipping down most draft boards.
It seemed unlikely that a talent like Sullinger would not only fall out of the lottery, but still be available at No. 21 for the Boston Celtics to select. According to Greg Payne of ESPNBoston.com, only two weeks ago, Doc Rivers commented in an interview that he was hoping Sullinger would continue to work his way into the rotation and earn himself some playing time, which is a role rarely taken by a rookie in Rivers system.
Fast forward two weeks and the Celtics have just wrapped up their European excursion with two strong preseason games that allowed Rivers to get a more in depth look at how his newly acquired players would mesh together on the court when it really mattered. Jared Sullinger stepped up to the challenge with a high level of confidence and produced one of the better two-game performances alongside Jeff Green and Rajon Rondo.
Sullinger put together a strong effort in the first game in Istanbul with a 16-point (7-of-11 shooting), eight-rebound, one-block performance over 26 minutes that highlighted his ability to work down low and showed that he can work well with a number of different lineups. The following game against Emporio Armani Milano, Rivers manipulated the starting lineup by placing Sullinger, instead of Brandon Bass, onto the court alongside Kevin Garnett. He pulled out another impressive performance with nine points on 3-of7 shooting along with seven rebounds, a block and an assist over 18 minutes of play.
Does the move of Sullinger to the starting lineup in this single game and his two strong performances indicate that he will jump Brandon Bass for a starting position early in the season?
No, it doesn't.
However, it does foreshadow the possibility that Sullinger will not only find his way into the rotation, but will get significant playing time as the season goes on. It appears that Sullinger is extremely comfortable playing alongside the likes of Rondo, KG and Pierce, and fans may have an opportunity to see Rivers experiment with this combination more during the NBA preseason games.
Although it is fully possible that Sullinger will see a slight step back in his performance when Boston takes on more formidable opponents, it seems that he is ready to make an immediate impact for the Celtics; Rivers may be willing to trust him with the increased responsibility. At this point, it is too early to declare that it is only a matter of time before Sullinger beats out Bass for the starting position; it is, however, something that should be followed closely as Sullinger's game continues to grow.
Whether or not Sullinger takes the starting position from Bass, the Celtics clearly have a great number of strong options at the power forward position. The lesson learned so far from preseason training is that Bass is by no means a lock to finish out the season in the starting role, with Sullinger continuing to make gains in his overall game.
This is especially true since Bass was really brought in to be the team's sixth man last season. Due to the fact that Sullinger will likely rise to the challenge of being a starting power forward and do everything in his power to retain the spot, it would no longer be a complete surprise to see an Avery Bradley/Ray Allen-type situation occur, leaving Sullinger as the main starter if Bass misses any extended period of time during the season.