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Ah, rebuilding seasons. Seasons where organizations try out rotations, ideas and strategies that would never be attempted if the team were in the playoff race. It's the basketball equivalent of a science lab, with bad teams using their situation as a way to experiment with new tools that could help them in future seasons.

Case in point: Jared Sullinger shooting three-pointers.

Now to be fair, this was not something that suddenly started happening after the Celtics fell out of the playoff picture, but instead has been going on since the very beginning of the pre-season. But even back then it was clear that this was year one of a rebuild, and therefore the entire season could be used as a canvas for Brad Stevens and his staff to try new things.

One of those things has been Sully bombing away from deep, despite the fact that he had never shown that kind of range before. And it makes sense. Sullinger has always been a good mid-range shooter, so why not see if he has the ability to stretch his range a bit further and try and become a weapon from three? After all, the mid-range jumper has basically been proven to be a far less efficient shot than a three-pointer (similar in terms of difficulty, worth a point less), so it's not surprising that Stevens and his staff had all of the bigs trying to expand their range at the start of the season.

But while the thought process was good, after 68 games, the results have been unbelievably ugly.

Sully has shot 162 threes and hit only 39 of them, a success rate of 24.1%. That puts Sullinger on track to become only the seventh player in NBA history to shoot 160+ threes and hit less than 25% of them. And if he keeps shooting and making them at the same rate, he will have the lowest three-point percentage in league history for anyone who shot at least 190 treys (he's on pace to shoot 198).

So the question becomes: should Sully stop shooting for good?

My answer: keep firing away, at least for now. Listen, everybody knows that you can't have a guy taking 2.6 threes-per-game and hitting only 24% of them. But there's no reason to kill the experiment before next year's training camp at the earliest. Sully has been awesome from mid-range this season (44.6%), showing that from 16-23 feet, he absolutely needs to be guarded by opposing defenses. That does not mean that he's a lock to develop more range, but it would be a shame not to use every single game of this season, plus the entire summer to see whether or not it's possible. Statistically it doesn't make a ton of sense for a guy to be elite from 16-23 feet and historically terrible from 23+, and I'm guessing Stevens knows this. That's why if I'm on the Celtics staff I have two jobs for Sullinger this summer: lose 15-20 pounds and get in great cardiovascular shape, and shoot 300 threes per day.

While I've always been quick to denounce the Kevin Love comparison (better comparison is Paul Millsap in my opinion), Love is an example of a big man who had to slowly expand his range. He went only 2-19 shooting threes as a rookie, and then shot 33% in his second year before breaking out in year three (42% while shooting 2.9 3 PT per game). So it's worth another summer/training camp to see if Sully has it in him before potentially pulling the plug once next season tips-off. The NBA is about maximizing the value of your players, and there is such a huge difference in value between a good mid-range shooter and a good three-point shooter that this experiment deserves an extended look.

Plus, look at the bright side: Sully missing three threes per game can only help the Celtics' draft position over the next 14 games. And I think even the staunchest opponents of tanking are in favor of that at this point.


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Michael Dyer 3/18/2014 04:23:00 PM Edit
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