After a tumultuous first nineteen games to open this 2013-2014 season, we have learned a lot about the identity of our Celtics. Though they may lack talent, they certainly make up for it in their resiliency. No player embraces Brad Steven’s program of hard work like Jared Sullinger. These first nineteen games have shown glimpses of how good he is and how great he could become.
Due to his injury-shortened rookie campaign, Sullinger has only appeared in 62 games in his career, starting just twelve. His 25.1 minutes per game is just fifth on the team, yet his value has been unmatched. According to 82games.com, Sullinger is a key member on the Celtics’ strongest lineup offensively (Crawford, Lee, Wallace, Olynyk, Sullinger) and the anchor on the team’s stingiest defensive lineup (Pressey, Lee, Wallace, Olynyk, Sullinger).
In his short rookie season playing with Kevin Garnett, it’s clear the veteran’s defensive presence made an impact on Sully. He’s averaging a half foul fewer per contest this year while holding opponents to a 19.4 simple rating (a PER variant). To put 19.4 in perspective, that’s just two spots behind Joakim Noah, one spot above Russell Westbrook, eight spots above Dwight Howard, and twelve spots above Bismack Biyombo. Sullinger has also improved his rebounding, which was already a strong suit coming into the year. His 7.4 rebounds per game translates to a defensive rebounding rate of 24.00, equal with Zach Randolph and better than Kenneth Faried, Tim Duncan, and Anthony Davis.
In his aforementioned unimpressive 25.1 minutes per game, Sullinger has managed to score 13.3 points per game. At just 6’9, Sullinger doesn’t get bullied in the paint. Rather, Sully has oftentimes been the only option the Celtics go to when the offense stalls. His interior presence has spread the floor, allowing for greater impacts from Jordan Crawford on the perimeter and Jeff Green driving to the basket. But the most impressive aspect of Jared’s game thus far has been his outside shooting. In this season alone, Jared Sullinger has made more threes than in both of his Ohio State seasons and rookie season… combined. His percentage isn’t all awe-inspiring at 31.8% but is ranked among James Harden and Chris Paul while being higher than last season’s three-point contest champion, Kyrie Irving.
If Jared Sullinger can keep up his rate of improvement and continue building on that perimeter shooting, he could soon draw comparisons to a former Celtic fan-favorite: Antoine Walker. Walker, the Celtics’ sixth overall pick in the 1996 draft, was a scoring machine alongside Paul Pierce. Walker’s inside-outside game was very difficult to guard against. Sullinger certainly spends more time in the paint between the two, but the comparisons are uncanny. Both stand 6’9 and weigh around 260 pounds. Walker averaged 32.5% from behind the arc, about the same as Sully this season. He also averaged 7.7 rebounds per game, but averaged over 35 minutes per game over his career, much higher than Sullinger right now. With an increase in minutes (has played over 30 minutes in five of the last seven games) it’s realistic to see Sullinger’s averages reach those of Walker’s and even exceed them towards the likes of a player like Kevin Love (very comparable sophomore seasons).
Another article could certainly be in store for Jordan Crawford, who leads the team in EMA (estimated wins added) and Hollinger’s value added. The duo could prove to be cornerstones in the Celtics’ future, it will be intriguing to watch them grow!