Did the Boston Celtics Find the Steal of the 2012 NBA Draft in Jared Sullinger?

Ethan Sherwood Strauss@SherwoodStraussNBA Lead WriterOctober 15, 2012

MILAN, ITALY - OCTOBER 07: Jared Sullinger # 7 of Celtics looks over during the NBA Europe Live game between EA7 Emporio Armani Milano v Boston Celtics at Mediolanum Forum  on October 7, 2012 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images)
Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images

"It's just preseason," they sagely intone. "Preseason doesn't matter," they swiftly dismiss. While I would agree that we need to temper judgments based on a few preseason games, I also believe such games can be helpful.

This is the first time we're seeing the young rookies in NBA settings, before their own crowds. Summer League is such a far cry from this, so much so as to be rendered near-meaningless. If Summer League was actually predictive, Anthony Randolph would set about defending his multiple MVP awards this season.

But preseason, now that can be helpful. 

Preseason is where I first saw displays of Ricky Rubio's superior court vision, and the slashing work of a slimmed down (since the 2011 combine) Kyrie Irving. Perhaps preseason isn't wholly predictive, but it gives you a sense of who looks lost and looks comfortable in their new digs. 

This is an admittedly subjective assessment, but Jared Sullinger looks damned comfortable as a Celtic. I understand why he fell all the way to No. 21 in this draft, but he's flashed enough talent to make the drop seem collectively foolish on the part of the league. Yes, his back is a concern, but so few players after the lottery become regular contributors. 

With preseason numbers of near 58 percent shooting (through three games) and 7.3 rebounds in 23 minutes of action, Boston just might have a challenger for the starting power forward spot. The players in front of Sully on the depth chart are Brandon Bass (solid shooter, but a poor rebounder and limited defender) and Jeff Green (has yet to prove he's actually good at anything). Suffice to say, Jared should have his chances.

The (non-back-related) knocks on Jared Sullinger are that he's a defensive liability on account of his weight and an offensive question mark on account of his athleticism. While these are legitimate concerns, I would say they also applied to Kevin Love back in 2008.

Love and Sullinger boast nearly identical freshman-year stats. Love's NBA board work initially made him valuable before he grafted a deadly outside game on top of that elite skill. Sullinger should be afforded the same advantage, as rebounding translates well from college to pros. Sully will board, which will keep him on NBA courts while he builds the rest of his game. 

Also, it's not like Jared Sullinger is raw, save for the boards. He possesses a good mid-range shot and savvy passing ability. To the eye, he appears well attuned to off-the-ball movement. This puts him at a contrast with Jeff Green, who is often trudging away from the action. Sullinger makes timely cuts into the paint for easy buckets.

It's no small thing to get a player with one elite skill at No. 21, and it's especially a boon to rebounding-challenged Boston. Jared Sullinger might not be the best defensive player in the world, but rebounding power forwards who can score are a godsend. The Sullinger pick looked like great value on draft night, and the early returns are quite positive.