Jared Sullinger, the man who went from a potential top NBA pick to not being invited to the draft just two years ago, has proven himself as a legitimate starter in the NBA and as the top player on the Boston Celtics this year.
In the 2012 NBA draft, the Boston Celtics had back-to-back first round picks. They decided to roll the dice on two big men with a lot of potential and a lot of risk because Kevin Garnett was not getting any younger and the team needed serious help on the inside.
With the 21st pick in the draft, the Boston Celtics selected the Ohio State Buckeye’s 6’9 center, Jared Sullinger. With the 22nd pick, they selected the 7-foot center from Syracuse, Fab Melo.
By the end of the 2013-14 season, it had seemed as though both of these gambles had failed.
Fab Melo, who had been the ACC Defensive Player of the Year at Syracuse, was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies, and he was released shortly after. He is currently an unrestricted free agent, and it does not appear that he will be making an NBA roster any time soon.
Then there was Jared Sullinger. Sullinger was a two time All-American and was once considered a top-five pick. After being “red flagged” for back problems during a combine, his draft stock plummeted. According to Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated, there were “debates on ESPN about whether he was even worthy of being a first-round pick.”
Even the analysts who liked Sullinger did not like Sullinger. Chad Ford on ESPN.com had put Jared Sullinger in the top 10 of his mock draft despite the injury claims, yet he said, “Sully may be the worst athlete in the draft.”
The Boston Celtics brought in Sullinger with the hopes that his back problems would not be a concern and he would rise to the lottery potential that he had.
The Boston Celtics flipped a coin on Sullinger, and it has yet to land. In his rookie season last year, Sullinger averaged six points and six rebounds while playing 19 minutes per game, stats not too bad for a pick in the 20s. Unfortunately, his play was not the concern.
At the end of January, nearly half way through the Celtics 2012-13 season, Jared Sullinger began to have back problems, and the Celtics decided it would be best for him to have season-ending surgery. A surgery that appeared to show 19 other NBA teams that they were right for passing on him in the draft.
According to an article from USA Today by Jeff Zillgitt, Sullinger’s agent, David Falk, had this to say:
"He had (back) spasms on Wednesday night (in a home game against Sacramento), was in pain and went to the hospital. There were alternatives.... He could've tried medication, steroids or cortisone. But he's 20 years old. We all agree that we have to look at this long term and that the benefits of fixing it now and having him come back 100 percent in training camp and being ready to go far outweighed potential short term benefits of him trying to . But he'll come back trimmer, more flexible, with greater leg strength and with something to prove. I think he'll have a major role on this team down the road. While this is a step backwards, it's one to take many steps forward."
Sullinger’s agent was right. He would be ready for the next season, and he would be better. He is now one of the league’s top young big men and has proven that he can be a viable starter for a long time.
Sullinger has proven to be very skilled offensively. He has the second most points on the Celtics this season behind only Jeff Green. Green should have more points, however, because he has played nearly 400 more minutes than Sullinger. Sullinger is the more efficient scorer, with a field-goal percentage of 43 percent in comparison to Jeff Green’s 41 percent.
Sullinger has the eighth most offensive rebounds in the NBA and has played less minutes than anyone else who is in the top 20. He is also fourth out of all centers in the NBA in scoring.
The Boston Celtics lost their most popular big man in the last twenty years when Kevin Garnett was traded to the Brooklyn Nets this season. Boston Celtics fans were distraught and did not know how the team would fare without a leader like KG.
With a new, young leader like Sullinger, the Celtics are better off. You can just look at the stat line for each player this season. Kevin Garnett is averaging 6.8 points per game, 6.8 rebounds per game and has a player efficiency rating of 13.33. Jared Sullinger is averaging 13.2 points per game, 8.2 rebounds per game and has a player efficiency rating of 17.11. To top it all off, Sullinger has done more than Garnett and has played less minutes each game.
Not only has he been great for the Celtics on the court, but he is a big part of the team’s persona off the court as well. He does great things for the community including an annual clothing drive where he gives out autographs and Celtics tickets to those who donate, and he also hosts a basketball clinic for up to 15 kids for the person who donates the most.
Jared Sullinger is being recognized more and more which was evident by his invitation to the All-Star Weekend to participate in the Rising Stars Challenge. He was also the Eastern Conference Player of the Week last week, when he averaged 20.3 points, 12.7 rebounds and 1.67 blocks in three games. He recorded a double-double in each of the three games as well.
Jared Sullinger was down but not out. The Boston Celtics paid for the risks they had taken in the 2012 NBA draft, and now that Jared Sullinger is healthy, they are ready to claim their reward.