Sullinger might be the team's starting power forward sooner than you think
When the Boston Celtics drafted Jared Sullinger 21st in June’s NBA draft, they knew they had a special player on their hands. Come midseason and they’ll also most likely have their new starting power forward.
The former Ohio State Buckeye has already been making waves inside the locker room.
Most noticeably, he’s earned the respect and admiration of veteran team leader Kevin Garnett.
“Jared understands what we’ve doing,” Garnett told reporters. “He’s a no-nonsense guy—not that I’m shooting anything at the other guys—but the young fella comes in, does his job and does what you tell him. He’s a great rebounder, his IQ is unbelievable, he can pass the ball and he reminds me a lot of [Kendrick Perkins]. Obviously, he’s not the defensive player that Perk was, but as far as IQ, moving the ball and being unselfish, he’s a great teammate.”
Being compared to Perkins—who contributed majorly to the team’s 2008 title run—is no small honor inside the Celtics’ locker room.
The team has been unsuccessful at finding someone to fill that role ever since Perkins was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2011.
That is, until now.
Here are three reasons why Sullinger will play his way into the Celtics’ starting lineup.
Sullinger's hustle hasn't gone unnoticed by head coach Doc Rivers
As expected, head coach Doc Rivers gave Sullinger a plethora of playing time this preseason.
The rookie backed up his coach’s faith by putting together stellar campaigns in both the summer league and the preseason.
In five summer league games, Sullinger averaged 13.8 PPG, 8.3 RPG and shot 40 percent from the floor in 28.3 MPG. But what stood out the most was the way he utilized his body to dominate his opponents and to establish a strong presence in the paint.
During the preseason, Sullinger kept up his strong play, averaging 10.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG and shooting 55.6 percent from the floor in 24.6 MPG. The way he seemed to transition his play in the summer into competition with NBA talent was almost seamless.
Granted both efforts came in the preseason, the 20-year-old’s performance can’t be taken with just a grain of salt.
In only the third game of his professional career, Sullinger received his first start. He shot 2-of-3 from the field for four points while tying the team lead for rebounds with seven.
His averages of 4.0 PPG and 5.0 RPG don’t combine for a stat line to boast about, however, it has to be taken into consideration that it’s in only 18.7 MPG.
Sullinger will only continue improving as the season progresses.
While effective, Bass would be a bigger asset for the C's coming off of the bench
While we all have to applaud Brandon Bass for his efforts in filling in at power forward for the Celtics last season, he is just not the solution at the position moving forward.
Last season Bass averaged 12.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG and shot 47.9 percent from the field in 31.7 MPG. It’s not the most impressive stat line for a starting power forward in the league.
In fact, Bass ranks near the bottom half in most statistical categories when compared to his peers.
Most worrisome is when it comes to rebounding—a trait vital for a power forward’s success in the league. Bass’ total of 6.2 RPG has him ranked No. 24 in the league.
Sure, the Celtics ranked last in the league with 38.8 RPG last season. However, that doesn’t give Bass an excuse to underperform at one of his duties.
The 27-year-old began this season with a terrific performance against the Miami Heat, finishing with 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting while bringing down 11 rebounds.
In two games since then, Bass has averaged 7.5 PPG and 5.5 RPG.
That’s not going to get it done.
The former LSU Tiger also has a tendency for jump shooting. That’s a style of play that would better serve the Celtics coming off the bench. Especially when matched up against the second-team units of opponents.
In years past the Celtics have preferred to have a power forward who has continuously imposed his will down low. Take for instance the playing styles of Kendrick Perkins, Glenn “Big Baby” Davis and Kevin Garnett—the last three players to have held down the spot in the rotation.
Sullinger gives the Celtics that physicality, while Bass doesn’t.
Rivers is still in search of a permanent power forward
Before the season began, Rivers made it clear that his team didn’t have a set group of starters outside of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
However, his recent lineups may have hinted at how he might really be feeling.
In the team’s eight preseason games, Sullinger was the starter in five. Only Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo were started more.
Following two losses to open the season, Rivers gave Sullinger the start for the Celtics’ weekend tilt with the Washington Wizards. The move paid off as the team came away with its first victory of the season.
There’s also the issue that the team believes Bass would thrive coming off the bench.
Rivers explained the thinking to ESPN Boston:
That was one of the other reasons we wanted Jared in the lineup, because Brandon’s another scorer in a lot of ways, and now you have too many in your starting lineup. We felt Brandon can come in and score with the second unit. He got a ton of wide-open shots tonight, he just didn’t make them. But I think that helped him too, knowing that when you come in with that group, you’re going to get shots.
It makes sense and it opens up the door for Sullinger to make his entrance into the starting lineup for good.
The last time the team utilized a rookie so much in its lineup was with Paul Pierce back in 1999.
We all saw how that turned out.
You can follow Sebastian on Twitter at @SP7988