In 2012, Jared Sullinger was slowly watching his draft stock fall as worries over the health of his back led many teams to take a more sure pick in a less talented player. As reported by Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston, the Celtics jumped at the opportunity of selecting a lottery-level talent in Sullinger late in Round 1.
Sullinger took to the Boston Celtics' style of play quickly, averaging 6.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, .5 blocks and .5 steals in just under 20 minutes per game. However, his productive role on the team was put on hold as his nagging back required season-ending surgery to fix the issues that had plagued him for years.
After rehabilitating his back all summer, Jared Sullinger has not only started where he left off last season, but he is becoming an even more integral part of the Celtics' future.
Sullinger has returned to the team playing with the type of drive that is often surprising on a team without championship aspirations. He consistently hustles on every play, fights for every rebound and, in general, brings forth an attitude that embodies winning.
Through 24 games this season, Sullinger is averaging a solid 14.0 points, 7.1 rebounds, .5 blocks and .4 steals in just under 27 minutes per game. Although he is not the first option on offense, he uses his strong frame in the paint to score in the post and is effective on the glass, resulting in consistent second-chance points.
Not only has Sullinger found a consistent post game this season, he is also showing his ability to stretch the floor by utilizing his greatly improved jump shot. He is even displaying confidence in his ability to shoot from deep as he is consistently taking, and often making, three-point shots.
He continues to use his solid frame to set strong picks for his teammates in order to create space, and his chemistry with the team on offense continues to grow stronger. However, Sullinger is not only excelling on the offensive side of the ball, he has also been equally impressive on defense.
Sullinger's consistent hustle and physical play are holding opponents to 103 points per 100 possessions, as provided by Basketball-Reference. This defensive rating makes Sullinger one of the strongest defenders on the team and a strong differential between his offensive and defensive ratings.
These defensive numbers are even more impressive when considering the fact that Sullinger has been asked to cover the likes of Tim Duncan and several of the other best big men in the league.
Most importantly, Sullinger is filling a role that the Celtics have greatly lacked in for years: the team's best rebounder. Not only does he lead the team in rebounds, Basketball-Reference highlights that he also has one of the best rebounding percentages by pulling down 15.2 percent of all available rebounds while Sullinger was on the floor.
He is providing the Celtics with a much-needed competitive spirit, toughness and winning mentality that the team had seemed to have lost in the beginning of the year. Sullinger has slowly become one of the Celtics' best players and is even turning into one of the biggest leaders on the court.
He has shown early in this season that the Celtics were right to take a risk on drafting the medically flagged power forward. Jared Sullinger is truly developing into one of Boston's best talents on the court and may become a key player in the quest to return the Celtics back to the championship hunt.