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Why Jared Sullinger Must Start over Brandon Bass for the Boston Celtics

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Why Jared Sullinger Must Start over Brandon Bass for the Boston Celtics
Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE

Along with death and taxes, the other certain thing in life is that Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will be in Doc Rivers' starting lineup.

Outside of that, let's just say the former Coach of the Year has some options—especially in that frontcourt alongside Kevin Garnett (via WEEI's Paul Flannery).

“I’m going to try it [starting Sullinger] for a couple of games and I’ll throw Brandon [Bass] in. I’ll throw Darko [Milicic] in a couple of times,” Rivers said. “You can read into it whatever you want, but there’s been no decisions made on anything yet.”

But according to Flannery, it was rookie Jared Sullinger who started the club's last tune-up in Italy and the very next practice thereafter. If no decisions have been made just yet, that bodes well for the new kid on the block. He's got some catching up to do when it comes to earning his stripes.

So far, he's catching up quickly.

Sullinger showing his stuff in Summer League play.

ESPN Boston's Greg Payne reports that Sullinger was exceptional in his first preseason action, and his teammates have noticed more than production alone (via the Boston Herald's Mark Murphy):

“His IQ is very high,” Kevin Garnett said of the rookie power forward. “I watched him a couple of times while he was (at Ohio State), and we saw a little of what he can do skill-wise. When you play with him you can actually see the IQ.”

Sullinger's more than just another wide, strong body. He's a skilled scorer and rebounder, beyond his years in important ways.

Rondo talks about what he sees in Sullinger.

Brandon Bass, meanwhile, stands to lose his starting spot—the one he held for 39 games last season. For what it's worth, Bass started out of necessity. The Celtics' lack of big bodies necessitated Garnett's move to the 5-spot, and Bass was the best option to replace him at power forward.

Bass' numbers as a reserve were comparable to those when starting, and he actually shot the ball more efficiently.

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His penchant for scoring via mid-range pick-and-pop situations is especially useful against second units and what often amounts to second-rate defense. The opportunity to bring him and Jason Terry off the bench would give the Celtics one of the league's best one-two scoring punches off the bench.

The best argument for starting Sullinger may be that it ultimately makes Bass (and the Celtics' depth) better.

Rivers also discussed the possibility of using multiple starting lineups, a model that would allow him to throw the taller Milicic at centers like Andrew Bynum, Roy Hibbert or Brook Lopez, thereby sparing KG some wear-and-tear defending the post.

All the better for Sullinger. Though he should be able to hold his own in the starting unit, he's still a rookie. With the understanding that he won't start every game, Rivers could work him in and out of the lineup without threatening his confidence with a scenario in which he "loses his starting job."

Check out Sullinger's preseason video blog.

That kind of flexibility is good for the Celtics, too.

While there's merit to the notion of building cohesion and continuity among the same group of guys, there's also something to be said for maintaining flexibility—especially in a world where injury can change a rotation at a moment's notice.

There's also the matter of rebounding. Boston ranked dead last in 2011-12 with just 38.8 rebounds per game. Though rebounds aren't the best measure of a team, it should say something that the Celtics ranked just behind the Charlotte Bobcats.

For his part, Bass ranked 50th among power forwards in rebounds per 48 minutes. Sullinger may struggle to replicate his success at Ohio State against more formidable NBA opposition, but he's a still bruiser in his own right—not quite a "Round Mound," but no pushover either.

One way or another, the important thing is getting Sullinger minutes and giving him the opportunity to learn enough on the job to make meaningful postseason contributions. 

Then again, at his current rate, he might be ready for those playoffs tomorrow.

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