Jared Sullinger has spent his entire career in Boston but it’s still time to move on
After playing in 81 games this past season for the Boston Celtics and starting 73 of them, Jared Sullinger fell flat on his face in the playoffs. On offense, he wasn’t able to battle inside with Paul Millsap and Al Horford and his jump shot wasn’t falling either. He ended up getting moved to the bench for the final four games and finished the series averaging 5.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
It was a complete disaster as he was a non-factor in every aspect of the game. During the regular season Sullinger was never a great defender but the Celtics’ fast-paced offense helped cover up some of his flaws. Opposing teams focused more on jump shooting than trying to get in the paint, which helped the undersized Celtics a lot.
Even though Sullinger is 6’9″ and 260 pounds, his big body doesn’t help his defense. He doesn’t have great leaping ability, isn’t super athletic and is easily beaten off the dribble when he has to step out and guard on the perimeter. He is hard to post-up but a post move is usually enough to get by him. That’s why he has never averaged more than a steal or block per game in his four-year career.
On the glass, Sullinger is coming off the best season of his career. He led the team with 8.3 rebounds per game, although he was still fairly inconsistent. He was by far the best rebounder on the team as his big body helped him gain positioning but he’s not who the Celtics want leading their team in that category.
Defense and rebounding have never been Sullinger’s calling card. He’s been able to develop into a good rebounder during his career, although offense is where he makes his mark. With that being said his points per game average dipped to 10.3 this past season after he averaged 13.3 points per contest in each of the past two seasons.
The emergence of Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder could be causes for the decrease, however, he also didn’t shoot well. He finished the season shooting a mediocre 43.5 percent but a dreadful 28.2 percent from three. Every time he would square up and take a three it made Boston cringe. It was a miracle when he made one but he kept insisting on taking them every game.
Other than the fact that Sullinger isn’t an effective outside shooter, the Celtics need an inside presence. It’s obvious that he likes to hang around the three-point line even though he’s not a consistent shooter. It caused a lot of problems in the playoffs as he looked foolish trying to post-up Millsap and Horford in the playoffs and couldn’t shoot either. He shot a dreadful 26.3 percent from inside of three feet in the playoffs.
Sullinger did connect on 59.1 percent of his shots from inside of three feet in the regular season though, but that’s not where he tried to make his mark. 29.2 percent of his shots in the regular season came from that distance due to offensive rebounds or Sullinger being left open when a guard drove to the basket, however, he’s not a back to the basket player.
Sullinger has tried to refine his mid-range game to become a serviceable pick-and-roll player, but it hasn’t worked thus far. He only shoots 35.1 percent from 10-16 feet out and isn’t seen as a big threat on those types of plays as he’s usually left open.
Just like a lot of his game, he’s very inconsistent in that area. There are games where he’s on fire but then others where he becomes a liability on offense. Either way, Brad Stevens doesn’t use the pick-and-roll game with Sullinger a lot late in games. He usually starts out the game running it but then forgets about it as the game goes on.
There are some people who still believe Sullinger can turn into an even better starter for the Celtics since he can play both positions down low. It seems a little crazy to think that considering he has dealt with weight issues, is an average defender at best, limited on offense and is a good but not great rebounder.
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Not to mention that Sullinger was wildly inconsistent throughout the season. His struggles started before the postseason as he only put up nine points and 4.6 rebounds per game in seven games in April. The two months before that he averaged close to a double-double, so you never know what to expect out of him.
I don’t think this is his ceiling but the Celtics can do a lot better this off-season. Sullinger has already expressed his desire in coming back to Boston as his stock is a lot lower following his poor postseason.
If all the responsibility isn’t put on Sullinger then he could have a more effective season because he can be a good complimentary piece but shouldn’t be seen as the first option down low. It comes down to the type of money he wants because while he was a good player for most of the season, he was well below-average when it comes to starting centers in the NBA last season.
Sullinger has good niches to his game, however, he tries to act as a stretch-four when teams don’t respect his outside shot and he doesn’t have the ability to drive to the basket to create space. He’d be a solid bench player or Boston but he’s not a starting-caliber player in the NBA.