Boston Celtics summer league observations, Day 3: Jared Sullinger impresses with back-to-basket game
The Summer League Boston Celtics are undefeated, people! As in, no losses!
They have won while controlling a game for four quarters, and they have won with a desperate comeback led by a 6-foot-1 point guard (Jonathan Gibson) who played for a Turkish team called “Trabzonspor” last season. They have won with Jared Sullinger tossing bricks at the rim and they have won with him controlling the paint. They have won with E’Twaun Moore controlling the tempo, and, well, he has moderated the pace in each of the Celtics’ three summer league games to date, so they haven’t won any other way so far.
Boston outlasted Indiana on Wednesday, 85-77.
Without further ado, player-by-player analysis:
He doesn’t have to dominate to impress. He doesn’t have to rack up assists to prove himself as a capable point guard. Moore hit five of his first seven shots and finished with 15 points, four rebounds and three assists for the afternoon. His most impressive moments don’t necessarily come in highlight form, but for a basketball purist watching Moore is fun. He drilled a three-pointer off the dribble, finished over a taller, more athletic player (Lance Stephenson) on the fast break, and hardly ever makes poor decisions. In 72 minutes this summer while taking almost all of the ball-handling duties, he has just five turnovers. He also has a +38 rating for the three games.
During one span in the second half, Moore executed two pick-and-rolls almost to perfection. The first one, he came off a Jared Sullinger screen, got doubled, and saw that Indiana had made the proper rotation to cover Sullinger on the roll. So Moore calmly pivoted, found Kris Joseph behind him, threw a cross-court pass to the three-point arc, and hit Joseph for a wide open look. The next possession, Moore ran the same pick-and-roll, on the same side, again with Sullinger. This time Indiana didn’t send as much attention Moore’s way, so he finished a five-footer off the glass. If a point guard can make proper decisions on pick-and-rolls, he can play in the NBA. Moore hasn’t had any incredible scoring outbursts yet, but he continues to show the makings of a poised, confident role player. At this point, I’d be shocked if the Celtics don’t guarantee the second season of his contract.
If Sullinger’s last game was enough to slow down the hype train, this one was enough to get fans back excited. He still rebounded the ball, grabbing seven caroms in 29 minutes, but this time he also scored efficiently. Sullinger finished with 18 points, many of them via the “I’m bigger and more skilled than this chump guarding me, so I’m just going to back my way to the hoop and finish, but I’m going to remain in complete control in case I need to pass out of a double-team” variety. Which is the best news Celtics fans could possibly hear regarding their team’s first draft pick.
Think about who scored for the Celtics in the post last season. Kevin Garnett occasionally, but he’d rather hoist jumpers. Brandon Bass couldn’t score on the low block against Shane Battier. Greg Stiemsma hasn’t developed any post game, Chris Wilcox wouldn’t know what to do in the post if the ball came with a set of directions, and Jermaine O’Neal, well, I’m just going to continue trying to forget he ever signed with the Celtics. Sullinger provides a dimension the Celtics didn’t have last season. He’s strong and he’s skilled and he can finish. Me gusta.
Melo can pass. Not school exams or classes, but he can pass a basketball. The center had three dimes Wednesday, all impressive ones leading to the reaction: “Did that dude from Syracuse who’s known as an offensive project actually just do that?” Sadly, though, there was also another side to Melo’s passes. Some of them come off his hands and head straight for Saturn, leading summer league coach Ty Lue to express, “We just have to get him to value the ball more. He’ll throw the ball anywhere.”
Melo had one dunk but has also displayed an ineptitude when it comes to scoring the basketball. He does show the makings of an impact interior defender, so that’s very nice. Don’t expect him to contribute much immediately, but I like his upside.
Joseph (12 points, seven rebounds, three steals, two assists, +26 rating) is signed to a non-guaranteed contract, but the Celtics might want to seriously consider keeping him around: he might be a second-round draft steal. Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself. But the Syracuse product (slap me if that sounds familiar) continues to show an impressive ability to contribute in a multitude of ways. He can grab a rebound, lead the break and drill a three-pointer. Hell, every time I watch Joseph I can hear Stephon Marbury’s voice whispering in my head: “Any time you can get a guy that can take a layup, you got a guy that can shoot a free throw, can make a college three and make an NBA three at a crucial time in the game — any time they can do that, and bring the ball up, and post up, shoot left-hand, right-hand, you’ve got a great player.” Joseph isn’t a great player yet. Not NBA great, at least, or even “definitely on the team” great. But he’s shown enough that he will certainly threaten to make the Celtics’ roster.
In 13 minutes, Williams came one personal foul shy of joining the ever-exlusive “Club Trillion.” In other words, he had zero points, zero rebounds, zero assists, zero blocks, zero steals and zero moments spent impressing the Celtics’ front office, which will soon need to decide whether to guarantee the second year of Williams’ contract. Somehow, Williams managed a +20 rating. He also didn’t have a single turnover, which is nice, although he did get crammed on by Miles Plumlee.
Johnson continues to show an ability to drill midrange jumpers. He also continues to show no other skills likely to be useful at the NBA level.
Johnson DID have five rebounds in 22 minutes on Wednesday, but the cons of his performance outweighed the pros. Twice, he allowed some dude named Julian Mavunga to back him down (easily) in the post and finish close to the hoop. That’s probably a little less terrible than it seems: Mavunga, a high school teammate of Gordon Hayward’s in Indiana, was a two-time First-Team All-MAC selection at Miami of Ohio. There, the 6-foot-8, 245-pounder scored 1,389 points and averaged 16.4 points per game to go with 9.0 rebounds per game as a senior. But if Julian Mother-Bleeping Mavunga can back Johnson down with such ease, imagine what Kevin Love might do. Alert me before Johnson ever defends Love in the post. I want to have enough time to climb into my bomb shelter for hiding.
The Summer Celtics play again Thursday morning against the Detroit Pistons at 11 a.m. Detroit’s Andre Drummond should give Sullinger his best test yet against NBA athleticism.