Garnett has always been hesitant to impart his deep well of basketball knowledge on his teammates in fears that it will be used against him in the future. This fits well into the ‘competitive at all costs’ character mold Garnett has so gracefully been placed in.
When the Celtics signed Kevin Garnett to a new three-year deal, Danny Ainge and company were attempting to reload the talents from previous years; but it was also in a more subtle sense the move was an investment in the future. The current contract for The Big Ticket means he will end his basketball career in Boston as the contract runs until KG is 40. This security means someone reaps the benefits of KG’s crafty play and competitive spirit, and the early recipient seems to be none other than Celtic rookie Jared Sullinger.
Sullinger has been on a tear of late, as the 20 year old has averaged 13 points and 13.5 rebound over his last two games. The competitive spirit is there, as after the game against Houston, Sully was asked about his physical play and responded, “As long as we’re winning I’m happy. Happy to hack.”
This soundbite could have easily come from Garnett, but instead it is the rookie showing the willingness to sacrifice for the team, taking the extra step to secure wins. Sullinger leads the Celtics this past month with a +66 plus/minus, while his frontcourt buddy Garnett is second on the team with +44. Whether or not you place importance on plus/minus as a statistic, it is difficult to deny that Sullinger is playing winning basketball.
Garnett had this to say about his relationship with the former Ohio State power forward (via ESPN Boston):
“He’s very poised. You’re not going to get under his skin, not going to rush him. Just when you think he’s backing down, he’s in your face. Practice every day is not a cupcake practice. We push the young guys here. Our practices are hard, they are emotional, they are filled with passion. I’m not saying that they are games, with popcorn popping and fans and [reporters] sitting three seats away from us. But practices are real, and they are serious; they get intense at times. That experience and going through that, and carrying it over to games, I think that’s helped.”
KG did not come into the league without a mentor of his own: Sam Mitchell. The current NBATV commentator and former Toronto Raptors head coach recently interviewed Garnett after the Houston game, and before Mitchell could ask a question Garnett paid immediate respect to his former teammate for all that he provided a young Garnett in Minnesota. He went on to talk about how he wanted to mentor Sully the same way Mitchell mentored him.
Having one of the best power forwards to play the game in your corner can be the difference between a hard working young player and a player ready to contribute to a winning basketball franchise. As Garnett continues to mentor Sullinger, it should provide dividends as the Celtics look to expand on their current five game winning streak.