Expectations were high for Boston Celtics forward Jared Sullinger heading into this season. Before his rookie year was cut in half by two herniated disks in his back, the big man had shown impressive rebounding skills and a soft touch around the rim, even in the limited minutes allocated for him under former Celtics head coach Doc Rivers.
After extensive rehabilitation over the span of seven months, he was ready to compete in 2013-14. With the hiring of Brad Stevens, Sully would have an opportunity to step in as Boston’s full-time starting forward/center for the first time in his young career. In the beginning of the season, he certainly impressed. Through his first two months, he averaged 13.5 points per game while shooting 46.4 percent from the field. Sullinger was one of the go-to players for the C’s on offense, and although he is listed at just 6-foot-9, he was able to score in the paint and prevent shot blockers from swatting his looks by using his wide, 260 pound frame.
His flare for rebounding that he had shown in the 2012-13 season carried over into his sophomore year as well. Although Sullinger was found camping out behind the three point line exponentially more than last season, he still crashed the offensive boards with a ton of energy. He has a knack for anticipating where the ball is going to end up after a miss, and that was on full display in the first few months of the 2013-14 campaign.
Things started to go south for Sullinger when he injured his left hand in late December. He was forced to play with a glove on for a handful of games, which resulted in a big dip in his field goal percentage and his scoring numbers. After a 22-point performance in a tough loss to the Detroit Pistons, he had a stretch of eight games in which he averaged 7.4 points per game on 25.3 percent shooting from the field and zero makes on 12 attempts from behind the arc.
His poor performance in the preceding games must’ve taken a toll on his confidence, because he wasn’t able to bounce back. In January, Sullinger’s field goal percentage dropped to 37.6 percent, and with that came major scoring inconsistencies. He missed the double-figures mark eight times in 17 games, twice more than his single-digit-scoring-game total for the first two months of the season combined. He did have a handful of good games though, including a 24-point, seven-rebound effort in Boston’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, but even in that contest he only shot 36 percent from the floor. With Sullinger struggling, Boston’s losses started to pile up. When the big man was playing at a high level, the C’s were 13-18. Since then, they have lost 15-of-17 games and are currently 12th in the Eastern Conference.
There is a definite correlation between the poor play of Sullinger and the poor play of the C’s as a unit. When Sully wasn’t converting anything on the offensive end of the floor, the Celtics relied heavily on mid-range jumpers, which are considered the most inefficient shot in basketball by most statisticians. Boston needs him to be a scoring threat on a night-to-night basis in order for their offense to stay afloat. Hopefully, he can turn it around.
It’s not often that a big man with the combination of passing, rebounding and shooting that Sullinger possesses falls out of the draft lottery, and the Celtics were lucky to have him drop all the way to 21. Although he hasn’t played well as of late, make no mistake, he can be a building block for the C’s. He just needs to develop consistency, and the best way to do that is to make a concerted effort to be involved every night in Boston’s offense. He needs to see more consistent minutes and has to be given time to figure out exactly what he needs to do to maximize his production at the NBA level. Once he gets into a groove, the sky is the limit.