6 Reasons Celtics Must Start Jared Sullinger over Brandon Bass
With the Boston Celtics' preseason slate finished up, outlandish claims like, "Put Jared Sullinger in the starting lineup," hardly seem out of place at all.
Sullinger, the Celtics' first-round pick (No. 21) in June's draft, has been one of the most impressive rookies in the league so far. He has turned a lot of heads with how NBA-ready his game seems to be. With a polished back-to-the-basket game already in his repertoire, he could be the best interior scorer to come out of the draft.
There are concerns about Sullinger moving forward, as there are with a lot of under-sized power forwards. The Celtics incumbent to the starting spot is Brandon Bass. Though Bass did nothing to lose his job in preseason play, it could just be that Sullinger did enough to take it.
Even though it is dangerous to draw conclusions from preseason lineup decisions, it is worth noting that in eight preseason games, Sullinger earned five starts to Bass' three. Going even further, Boston was 0-3 in Bass' starts.
Either way, this is a great subject for debate. When a team has two starting-caliber players at one position, it can mean great things are on the horizon for both players and more importantly, the team.
Let's go ahead and knock out the obvious slide early. Even before the preseason the main argument for starting Jared Sullinger over Brandon Bass was the rebounding advantages it posed for the starting lineup.
By now everyone should be aware that the Celtics were NBA bottom-feeders when it came to rebounding in 2011-12. This problem stemmed from starting a player like Bass at power forward, while sliding Kevin Garnett to center.
At this point in his career, Garnett is no longer a prolific rebounder. Similarly, we know what Bass is, and he doesn't have the potential to be prolific at this skill either.
Boston's reserve big men weren't going to wrack up a whole lot of boards either, and this led to opposing teams getting numerous second- and third-shot opportunities.
Sullinger has the potential to be that prolific rebounder. You can tell by watching him that he knows floor spacing, and he has the wide body necessary to box out taller players.
This was particularly noticeable in the preseason on the offensive end of the floor. He had early games of five and four offensive boards and finished averaging 2.5 per game. That is a whole rebound more than any player averaged last season.
His rebounding skills, especially on a starting unit of jump shooters, could be invaluable.
A major concern with inserting a rookie like Jared Sullinger into the Celtics starting five is his defensive capabilities.
While somewhat behind his offensive proficiency, I'd argue that Sullinger's defense is a prime example of why he should be placed in a starting role.
Simply put, what better way to learn a defense as elite as Boston's than to play alongside Kevin Garnett. Learning by doing is always one of the quickest ways to grasp a concept. Adding this to the fact that you are also experiencing first-hand how the Celtics brand of defense was created by the guy who created it, I think it is a winning scenario.
This is a major help for the future of this team. Sullinger is going to be the starting power forward of the future and if you start him now, that process is expedited dramatically.
At this point we know what Brandon Bass is defensively. Though he is far from a stopper, he is capable and improved last season, but can he improve beyond what we saw late last season?
As a late second-round pick seven years ago, I think we can say Bass exceeded expectations in his career, but let's not confuse his potential with that of a potential blue-chipper like Sullinger. The rookie has more potential on both ends of the floor than the incumbent.
New Second Unit
A point of concern with Boston's second unit is the relative inexperience it has playing with one another.
Yes, this team is infinitely deep and impressive talent-wise within that depth; however, outside of 26 games of sub-par Jeff Green, who among them knows what it is like to play in green?
The second unit—possibly consisting of Jason Terry, Leandro Barbosa, Green, Jared Sullinger and Darko Milicic—has zero real basketball minutes together. Though Doc Rivers probably won't be doing full five-for-five substitutions, this is a potential issue.
A simple way to assure Boston doesn't run into problems here is to swap Sullinger with Brandon Bass. Bass is a proven commodity and can give Boston 11 points and six rebounds whether starting or coming off the bench.
He has the potential, as he did all last season, to halt opposing runs before they get out of hand. In 2011-12, a Bass jumper from the elbow was as good as a timeout in situations when the Celtics were losing control of the game. That type of game is suited for a reserve role.
Brandon Bass Is Productive Anywhere
Beyond the fact that seven years into his NBA career I don't see Brandon Bass getting much better as a player, he is very productive.
The thing about Bass' production, though, is that it comes no matter what the situation is. He has been as steady as they come for this Celtics team. Even in the postseason, when it was easy to get frustrated with him not raising his game, he was still posting the same stats he had all season.
In 2011-12, Bass started 39 games for Boston. He posted 13 points and six rebounds on 47-percent shooting in those games. He came off the bench in 20 games and posted 12 points and six rebounds, while shooting a tick under 50-percent from the field.
The only difference between starting Bass and reserve Bass was one shot (a miss) per game. This is a comforting notion that on that second unit, Boston could have a sure-thing. Bass is as reliable a consistent source of production as you will find on the second unit, so why start him if you don't have to?
No Risk of It Going to His Head
"I mean, we've got a lot of guys that have been in the league for a long time. A couple dinosaurs, but I'm not going to point them out," Sullinger joked. "But, yeah, I'm surprised. I'm very surprised. But that comes with hard work and dedication to the game and just never cheating yourself."
That is a quote from Jared Sullinger in a story by ESPNBoston's Chris Forsberg. He was asked about how easily he has found consistent minutes on a veteran-laden Celtics team.
What it shows is humility and humbleness. Sullinger is just a 20-year-old kid at this point, but has made deep impressions in Boston. His modesty has been on display since draft night when he claimed he would accept falling in the draft all over again if it meant an opportunity to play with the Celtics.
Fans eat that kind of thing up. What it really means is that the Celtics should have no worries or second guesses about inserting him into the starting unit. He is a humble kid and isn't going to let a starting job go to his head.
Instead, it appears it will just make him work harder in order to keep the position.
Jared Sullinger Could Have That Extra... Something
There is just something about Jared Sullinger that impresses you.
Maybe it is his charisma, being voted as one of the funniest and most overlooked rookies in the draft.
There is that potential teeming under the surface, though. The potential that Glen Davis once showed while in green. The potential to raise his game when the stakes are highest.
Big Baby had some killer postseason performances while in Boston, something that often gets overlooked considering the end of his Celtics era. It is easy to forget his contributions, especially emotionally, to the Celtics' success for a four-year period.
Davis had that something that you can feel with Sullinger. It is a potential to do great things in admittedly small windows. My main criticism of Bass was his inability to raise his game outside of one night against Philadelphia where he was unconscious from the field.
Other than that, Bass put his usual totals up, finishing with 11 points and five boards on 46-percent shooting. My biggest criticism, maybe unfairly so, was that Bass wasn't Big Baby. He didn't have that flair for making a big play in a big game.
I think some of that comes, obviously, from who they are and who they were in college. Davis led LSU to the Final Four in 2006 with massive performances in wins over the No. 1 and 2 seeds, while Bass' LSU teams lost in the opening round twice.
Sullinger, right now, is fresh off an immense NCAA Tournament performance and run to the Final Four with Ohio State.