5 Reasons Jared Sullinger Is a Legit Boston Celtics Building Block

Michael Pina@@MichaelVPinaFeatured ColumnistDecember 21, 2013

5 Reasons Jared Sullinger Is a Legit Boston Celtics Building Block

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    The Boston Celtics have exceeded expectations so far this season, and a major reason why is Jared Sullinger, who’s emerged as arguably the team’s best player in just his second professional season.

    The 21-year-old leads Boston in points per 36 minutes, rebounds per game and holds the team's highest PER (an impressive 19.0). He's getting better in various areas and establishing himself as a high impact player in others. 

    Listed in no particular order, here are five reasons why Sullinger is the Celtics' most valuable building block.

5. Impact on the Glass

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    In a mid-December contest earlier this season against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Jared Sullinger grabbed 11 rebounds in 36 minutes. This is a very good number, made even more impressive by the fact that Sullinger spent most of that time battling Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic for every missed shot attempt.

    Those are two of the game's absolute best in the category of rebounding (especially Love, who just might be the best rebounder of his generation), and Sullinger more than held his own.

    Sullinger's numbers aren't elite (9.5 rebounds per 36 minutes), but they will be some day. He's an immovable object down low, tasked with taking on more than one opponent thanks to Boston's small front line.

    He's obsessed with the fundamentals because he has to be, boxing out a man instead of an area and always scrapping with ferocity while understanding he can't get too physical or risk foul trouble. (Sullinger is averaging 4.3 personal fouls per 36 minutes this year, down from a reprehensible 6.2 during his rookie season.)

    Rebounding is Sullinger's greatest strength. As the years pass, his comprehension of angles and familiarity with shot trajectories will get better, and so will the numbers.


4. Offensive Versatility

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    The variety found in Jared Sullinger’s offensive skill set is rare for someone his size. He can shoot from just about anywhere on the court, with a jumper that's more than solid from mid-range.

    He also shoots a respectable, albeit below average, 31.3 percent on 2.7 three-point attempts per game. That percentage is more impressive when you consider he attempted just five total three-pointers during his rookie season.

    Moving closer to the basket, out of the 100 field-goal attempts he's made in the restricted area, only 50 of them have been assisted—he's shown an ability to create for himself with slithery moves and fabulous touch.

    He does it all with punishing dexterity when his back is to the basket (Sullinger's shooting 48.4 percent in post-up situations, per mySynergySports) and fantastic hands, which let him snatch passes in traffic. 

    According to NBA.com/Stats, Boston's offense is a whopping 12.0 points per 100 possessions better with Sullinger on the court. That's a massive differential.

    Comparisons to Kevin Love are premature, but if Sullinger stays on this track there's no other player worth comparing him to. 



3. Defense, Particularly in the Post

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    Jared Sullinger is a rhinoceros who grew up practicing ballet. Moving him if he doesn't want to be moved is almost impossible. Going around him is equally difficult, thanks to his quick feet and understanding of lateral angles, where his teammates are helping in rotation and where he's positioned on the court.

    MySynergySports.com notes that Sullinger is allowing 0.81 points per possession guarding the post, which is 52nd in the entire league. Impressive stuff considering over half of all possessions that end with him as the primary defender come in the post.

    He's had to guard Brook Lopez, Roy Hibbert, Marc Gasol and Dwight Howard.

    Why is this important? Sullinger will never be a shot-blocker, but if he can handle the league's top post-scorers it will allow a true center (Omer Asik, perhaps?) to drift through the paint as a weak side shot-blocker. 

    This skill is rare in someone Sullinger's size. Few power forwards possess his quickness, strength and basketball intelligence. He's already fine rotating from the weak side, understands he isn't a shot-blocker and does a great job taking charges or dissuading smaller players from entering the paint. 

    But his ability to make opposing players who are three to five inches taller work so much harder than they want to is incredibly valuable.

2. Individual Development

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    When he was drafted by Boston two years ago, a popular knock on Jared Sullinger's game was that he'd always struggle to get a shot off around the rim. 

    The thinking went that he was too short and too grounded to have a positive impact in the paint. All his shots—or at least a vast majority of them—would get smacked back into his face by taller, more athletic defenders. 

    During his rookie season all those concerns materialized into truths. Sullinger had 1.7 shots blocked per 48 minutes, which is a massive number considering he attempted only 12.1 shots in that frame. 

    This year he's getting 1.4 of his shots blocked per 48 minutes, and attempting 8.9 more shots. The improvement is insane. He's already learned to use his wide body as a weapon, slamming it into opponents and taking away their leverage as shot-blockers.

    According to mySynergySports, Sullinger is the 13th most efficient scorer in the league after grabbing an offensive rebound and looking to score. 

    Sullinger's improved other areas of his game this season, but they're covered in other slides. This particular aspect—not getting his shot blocked—is unique because of how quickly the 21-year-old took to turning it around. 

    What was once a weakness is now teetering on becoming a strength, and that's exactly what teams look for when evaluating their young talent.

1. He's Boston's Best Asset

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    Different from the other four reasons explaining why Jared Sullinger is a building block for the Boston Celtics, this has little to do with his on-court productivity, and more to do with his contract, age and increasing value around the league.

    Seven years ago the Celtics convinced the Timberwolves to part with Kevin Garnett by sending a 22-year-old Al Jefferson to Minnesota. The following season Boston won the championship.

    Given the growing appeal of talent that's inexpensive (ie early on a rookie scale contract), Sullinger's worth, as an improving power forward with all the skills mentioned in the four previous slides, is very high.

    It may not be at Jefferson's level, but it's getting close. And if a disgruntled star were ever looking for a fresh start, the Celtics would be in great position to acquire him by dangling a package with Sullinger in the middle.