Coming into the most recent draft, Ohio State power forward Jared Sullinger's draft stock was tainted with a red flag. His back problems kept him on the board until the Celtics used their 21st overall pick on the 20-year-old.
Despite the skepticism of his durability, Sullinger produced in summer league play. Aside from arid and desperate three-point shots, he played like a refined big man, banging down low and snagging rebounds. His ability on the boards continued into the preseason, and rebounds are just what the Celtics needed after seemingly losing the rebounding battle in every single game of their 2011-12 season.
After a promising summer league campaign for the Celtics and a preseason that showed significant potential despite their record, Boston got off to a shaky start in its first two games which saw them lose to the defending NBA champion Miami Heat and a middle-of-the-road Milwaukee Bucks team.
It was obvious that the Celtics needed to make some changes, but the overall problem with the Celtics so far is still team chemistry. The C's brought in a lot of new faces aside from Sullinger, and those pieces will have to become integral parts of the team if the Celtics are going to turn the tables on the Heat this season in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The first major change made by coach Doc Rivers was moving last season's starting power forward Brandon Bass to the bench in favor of the rookie Sullinger. By the "eye test" and the Boston faithful's complete and utter faith in Rivers' decisions, it was a fine decision. Sully can grab the boards, he moves well for a big man and he can even dish the rock when he needs to. Nothing is getting hurt by starting the rookie, right?
Wrong. Brandon Bass should without a doubt be starting games next to Kevin Garnett. Once Bass became fully integrated into Boston's starting five last year he was an over-looked force for the C's and was a huge part of the reason that the Celts were 12 minutes from returning to the NBA Finals.
Who should be starting? Sullinger or Bass?
Not only was Bass averaging 11 points and five rebounds during the postseason, but he was also hitting his free throws, shooting 92 percent from the line. Not to mention Bass' 27-point effort in Game 5 of the Celtics' grueling seven-game series with the always tough Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
To couple the stats, he was also relied on heavily to defend the league MVP in LeBron James during the Eastern Conference Finals. For Doc to have that type of confidence in a player is special.
Brandon Bass should remain the starter in Boston. He is fully integrated with the team at this point, and that is crucial at a time when there are so many talented players on the roster who are still trying to figure out their role.
This is not to say that Sullinger is not capable of being just as important or perhaps even more important down the road for the C's. He's proven that he can grab the boards that the C's need, and he is also athletic enough to run the floor with Rondo when he needs to.
He also creates matchup problems. Sully may be undersized for a center, but he can muscle his way around inside well enough to give Garnett his breathers early and often. He is also obviously capable of matching up well with most power forwards. That type of diversity needs to be utilized off of the bench, similarly to how Jeff Green's abilities are used.
The idea is that the core men in green need to start, and in the latter stages of a close contest the C's need to be able to rely on their young guns in Rondo, Green and Sullinger to run in transition and grind the games out.
Sullinger will be a respectable starting power forward in this league, just not yet.