Jared Sullinger made waves around Boston last season by playing his way into the conversation for who was the steal of the 2012 NBA Draft. Once touted as a lottery level talent during his college career, a medical red flag found Sullinger falling on most NBA draft boards as reported by Chad Ford of ESPN.
The Boston Celtics took advantage of the free fall by selecting Sullinger with the 21st pick in the NBA draft. According to Greg Payne of ESPN Boston, Sullinger quickly gained the trust of Doc Rivers by demonstrating a high basketball IQ and an affinity for the hard style of play big men need to succeed in the NBA.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, Sullinger's rise to becoming a significant role player on a championship contender was cut short. As reported by Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston, the Celtics made the difficult decision to shut down Sullinger for the year and have their rookie undergo back surgery only a short time after the team lost All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo for the season.
Now Sullinger's role on the Boston Celtics has changed greatly since the last time he played a game in Boston over five months ago. After a trade that sent Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets this week, the Boston Celtics have switched from the championship mentality they possessed during the Big Three era to a full rebuilding effort.
Sullinger will no longer be looking to contribute to the team's championship aspirations, but rather will be fighting to become a big piece of the Celtics' future. One of the big questions going into this season for Boston will be whether or not Jared Sullinger will be healthy enough and possess the talent to be a starter for the new look Celtics.
Last season Sullinger averaged a strong six points on 49.3 percent shooting, 5.9 rebounds, .8 assists, .5 blocks and .5 steals over only 19.8 minutes per game. Although these statistics don't jump off the page, Sullinger demonstrated an impressive ability to fill in the gaps in the weaker areas of the Celtics' style of play.
The first area that Sullinger greatly succeeded in was rebounding. The young power forward became one of the team's strongest forces in the paint and on the boards. Sullinger utilized his size and intelligence to find great positioning on the floor allowing him to pull down an impressive 17.5 percent of all rebounds available while on the court, as reported by Basketball Reference.
In addition to contributing to the team with much needed rebounds, Sullinger provides an intense defensive effort that makes it difficult for opposing teams to score in the paint. Although his defensive tenacity got him into foul trouble last season, Basketball Reference reports that it also provided him with one of the best defensive ratings on the team behind the likes of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
On the offensive side of the floor, Sullinger demonstrated a strong repertoire of low-post moves that could make him a dangerous option in the paint when healthy. In addition, he is capable of producing points on second chance opportunities by consistently pulling down offensive rebounds to put back up or pass to an open shooter.
Finally, Jared Sullinger possesses a maturity not often seen in many veterans throughout the league, let alone a 21-year-old rookie. He carries himself with a consistent professional demeanour, remains under control in high stress situations and always seems to have the right things to say.
As reported by Baxter Holmes of the Boston Globe, Jared Sullinger displayed these qualities after one of the team's summer league games in the answers he provided upon being asked about Boston's rebuilding process. Sullinger responded to one of the questions about the rebuild by stating, "When you have Celtics pride, you really don't have time to rebuild."
Throughout the remainder of the interview, Sullinger consistently answered questions with the professionalism and positivity often put forth by some of the best leaders in the NBA. His presence on and off the court is continually a positive factor for the team, and Sullinger will likely take a significant leadership role on this young Boston Celtics roster.
If Sullinger returns this season healthy and capable of playing at the level Boston saw last season, there is no doubt that he deserves to start for the Celtics. He will not only provide the team with much needed production on the court, but he will put in the work to keep Boston moving in a positive direction during the first year of the rebuilding process.
Hopefully last season's surgery will be the only major set back in what looks to be a promising career for Jared Sullinger. I fully expect to see Sullinger not only claim the starting power forward position this year, but also take a greater role as a leader in the locker room.
The Celtics are lucky to have such a young and promising player on their roster for the next few years. He will likely play a very large role in Boston's rise back to relevance as they attempt to rebuild the roster around the young talent they have been collecting. I look forward to seeing Sullinger back in green starting for the Boston Celtics this season.