With the most exciting moments of the offseason behind us, Celtics Town is counting down the Celtics’ roster from 16 to one. We’ll offer speculation on the role each player has to play, and where they’ll be in the rotation as we look towards the upcoming season. If you missed the last column in this series you can check it out here.
Jared Sullinger is our pick for the rookie most likely to have a significant impact on the Celtics this year, earning him the tenth spot in our Roster Countdown. Much like Glen Davis in his rookie season, Sullinger finds himself behind a more athletic big-man in the rotation (for Davis it was Leon Powe, for Sullinger it’s Wilcox) who’s made of glass, so
if when Wilcox goes down Sullinger will likely be granted some very big opportunities. Until that happens he’ll shore up the back-end of the big-man rotation with his rebounding and scoring.
The Celtics were dead last in rebounding last year in the NBA with a miserable 38.8 rebounds per game. This is the area where Sullinger will have the opportunity to make the most impact, as he averaged 9.2 RPG his last year in college thanks to his meticulous attention to positioning and shot tendencies. However, Sullinger’s cerebral approach lends itself best to the offensive glass (offensive rebounds accounted for a third of his boards last year), which isn’t close to being the Celtics’ forte. In the past Doc’s has sacrificed offensive rebounds in favor of getting back to defend, so Sullinger’s rebounds will likely take a dip unless Doc plans on making some changes in light of the recent infusion of youth. Still, on a team where the third best rebounder last year was Paul Pierce, Sullinger figures to make a pretty significant impact on the glass.
How much Sullinger will be able to contribute on offense remains a bit of a mystery. In college he was a very good scorer (17.5 PPG on 52% shooting), doing the majority of his damage in the post, but in the NBA he’s not going to be able to throw his weight around to make up for his lack of size or athleticism. While I’m confident Sullinger will eventually become acclimated enough to the NBA game to make a significant contribution down low, in the meantime he’ll have to embrace other parts of his offensive game to make up the difference. Fortunately Sullinger has a solid jumper, is surprisingly efficient finishing off cuts (1.426 PPP), and is very good at drawing contact (he averaged 6.2 FTA a game in college, 5.1 FTA in summer league, Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 5.6 this year and no one else was really close). He showed the ability to make adjustments to his playstyle when needed during summer league, and I’m sure he’ll continue to do so in the NBA.
My gut feeling on Sullinger is that his competitiveness will be at the root of his success. It doesn’t matter if he’s not the biggest, strongest, or fastest; he’s always found a way to win. That’s why the Glen Davis comparison’s felt silly to me, Davis was never as hungry as Sullinger is (in the competitive sense, I’m sure Glen Davis is eating spaghetti and pancakes at this very moment). Sure they have somewhat similar style of play, but this summer Sullinger has already shown a commitment to getting into better shape (something Davis never really did), and if he takes a few lessons from David West and Kevin Love there’s no reason he can’t be a good player for many years in this league, even if he is a bit earthbound. With his smarts and competitive drive, I’m confident that as he adapts to the NBA game he’ll be able to make a significant contribution to the team both this year and going forward.
You can follow Jordan on Twitter, @OffensiveG.