The Celtics struggled badly on their Western Conference road trip, and ended it with a 22 point loss to the Sacramento Kings. Talk was heavy of a possible swap for Kings’ center DeMarcus Cousins, but the real bright spot for the Celtics was not the play of potential acquisition Cousins.
It was the play of the guy many were pegging to be the steal of the 2012 NBA Draft: Jared Sullinger.
Sullinger had 16 points and seven rebounds against the Brooklyn Nets on Christmas day, and following that game he went on to average 8.6 points and 6.3 rebounds over the final three games of the road trip, while shooting a very impressive 60 percent from the field.
Sullinger was asked what helped him on the road trip, and he gave the laconic response, “Just playing basketball.” He added that he thought he had “reached a comfort level” and it’s apparent that Sully has grown more confident as the season has worn on.
At a time when many rookies may be prone to hit the wall, Sullinger looks as though his best play is still to come.
On Saturday night against the Golden State Warriors, Sully scored 10 points in the first half. Yes, it is pretty easy to put up good numbers against Golden State, but Sullinger’s ability to run the court should help render him an effective 4-man in a league laden with guys that fail to run in transition.
Sullinger has shown himself to be particularly effective when he gets minutes with the starting unit. He said that the starters “draw so much attention, and everyone leaves No. 7 alone (he himself).”
What’s more is that Rajon Rondo is known to enhance the talents of all around him, and his passing ability (Rondo leads the league in assists per game with 11.6 per game) makes it easier for guys like Sullinger who can thrive in pick and roll situations. Sullinger also has a good set of hands, which helps him corral the passes thrown by Rondo, which can sometimes have a little too much “oomph” on them for many players.
Sullinger still has a ways to go before he reaches his full potential; that is a given. But at a time when he could be starting to hit the wall, his lack of minutes will serve to his advantage. His legs should remain fresh for the remainder of the season, and his conditioning is continuing to get better, even though he has battled weight issues in the past.
It’s his skill set that has rendered him an effective player, and the comparisons to a prime Carlos Boozer were not ill-formed. Sully is undersized, like Boozer, and his soft touch around the hoop will make him a threat for the C’s…and they need it. With the frontline thin, Sullinger’s improvement will be instrumental for the rest of the season.