Jared Sullinger to make first start of the season, can he take advantage?

Entering into his now 4th season in the NBA, there have been a lot of questions surrounding Jared Sullinger's work ethic and weight. It was just last year that his weight had ballooned up to almost over 300 pounds and many began questioning whether or not Sullinger was serious about keeping up his conditioning.

Through his first three games of the season, the young PF has looked in much better shape and while he may be coming off the bench, he has been getting the majority of the playing time at PF/C. With the recent news coming out that the Celtics wouldn't be extending Sullinger's contract, the big-man himself knows that this is a pivotal year in his career. Not only has he been impressive offensively but the youngster has shown strides in improving himself defensively with strong play on that end.

In a recent article by Marc D'Amico from Celtics.com he details that statistics back up Sullinger's improved defensive play:

Sullinger is having a career year in multiple defensive categories. He is blocking shots (1.2 per 36 minutes) and grabbing steals (1.8 per 36) and defensive rebounds (27.3 defensive rebound percentage) at a higher rate than he ever has as a pro. His defensive rating of 94 is also far and away his career-best mark; his next-best defensive rating was 102, which he achieved during his rookie season.

Sullinger himself also detailed that he is feeling a lot better physically coming into this season than in previous years:

Over the summer I did a lot of things: running, conditioning, defensive drills, offensive drills,” Sullinger said. “The work I did is starting to pay off.”

Sullinger, who is officially listed at 280 pounds, has stated that he did not lose a massive amount of weight during the offseason. However, he does feel lighter on his feet.

“I’m just quicker to react,” he said.

According to the Providence Journal's Scott Souza, Sullinger has been competing and giving his 100% whenever he's been on the floor:

Sullinger has gone from the fringes of the five-man frontcourt rotation to the first one off the bench early in the season. Twice already he’s made an impact coming in for an ineffective Tyler Zeller in the first quarter. Both times he began the second half as a starter.

“I really don’t give a damn how many minutes I play,” he said. “I know the minutes right now are limited. You go out there and give it your all.

Whether it's been his rebounding prowess, his improved post play on both ends, or his hustle, Sullinger has made it clear that he wants his starting position back. His statistics so far this year stand at 9.3 points per game, 6 rebounds per game, on 56.5% shooting in 19.7 minutes per game. With starting center Tyler Zeller's recent struggles, Sullinger has been inserted into the starting lineup for tonight's game against the Indiana Pacers. Thus far through his time on the court, the talented big man has displayed his improvements and hopefully that can carry over into the starting lineup when he takes the court tonight.

While Celtics fans may get on the young PF from time to time, there's no doubt that we all want him to succeed and to be the best player he can be. Given the amount of talent the man has, it's great to see Sullinger making strides to improve himself as a basketball player.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
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