Jared Sullinger's uneven career in Boston: Will he be missed?
As the 2012 draft dragged on the Celtics were armed with two picks back to back, numbers 21 and 22. When their turn came up, Danny Ainge and the Celts' brass quickly pounced on a sophomore out of Ohio State by the name of Jared Sullinger. Even as he slipped down the board due to a back injury, the selection of Sullinger was praised locally as the steal of the night. During his time in Columbus the power forward was one of the best players in the nation, averaging 17.3 points and 9.7 rebounds in his two seasons. The selection seemed like a no-brainer.
Unfortunately from the moment his name was called by then commissioner David Stern, Sullinger's relationship with the city has been a never-ending roller coaster. As a rookie he came on the scene and meshed well with an aging Kevin Garnett. Then a back injury cut Sully's season short just 45 games in.
During the 2013-2014 campaign, the C's big man put up his finest numbers, averaging 13.3 points while grabbing 8.1 rebounds in a career-high 27.6 minutes per.
Huge things were expected for a noticeably big man as his talent and skills were on the upswing.
A broken foot, suffered in February of 2015, limited Sullinger to just 58 regular season games in coach Brad Stevens' second year manning the sidelines as the Celtics surprised everyone as they qualified for the playoffs. The then 23-year-old came back in time for the postseason, posting his most impressive stretch in memory with 12.3 points and 7.0 rebounds during a four-game sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
As the summer of 2015 hit, the same complaints rang true about the former Buckeye. His conditioning was always in question as he clearly battled weight issues throughout his time in Boston. He was even called out in March of that year by Ainge in a piece by ESPN's Jackie MacMullen:
He's not up to the standards he wants and it's not up to the standards we think are in his best interests for the long-term health of his career
The words from Ainge were even more ammo for a fanbase that were quick to try to label Sullinger a bust. He may have had some head scratching moments with the team, but let's get one thing clear; Sullinger was not and is not a bust by any stretch of the imagination.
A deeper look into the numbers shows that in relation to his draft class, Sullinger ranks 4th in rebounding and 9th in points, not exactly something to show disgust with for someone picked in the lower third of the draft.
As the 2015 campaign came to an end, Sullinger knew two things. One, he was now in a contract year, and two, his conditioning was the biggest priority. Working all summer in the hot Texas heat with former NBA player John Lucas, Sully came to camp looking his slimmest. Whether he kept the weight off is up for debate, (ok he didn't) but he still went on to play in 81 games this past year for the up and coming Celtics, albeit at a career-low 23 minutes per game. Sullinger, still showed a strong ability to be a force on the glass as he ranked 24th in the NBA, at 8.3 rebounds a game.
To put that into perspective, those rebounding numbers are higher than the likes of Bismack Biyombo, Derrick Favors, Brook Lopez and Zack Randolph.
But the end of his Celtics' tenure didn't turn out the way the four-year pro would have liked. Against Atlanta in the first round this past spring, Sullinger looked like a shell off himself playing just 13 minutes per game despite the roster being stretched thin due to injuries. The big guy struggled to hit any shots, shooting just 31 percent in the six games against the Hawks.
As the C's walked off the floor after the crushing Game six defeat, Sullinger's future was up in the air. He was a restricted free-agent, but as the offseason dragged on it was clear Sullinger was not a top priority for a team like Boston looking to add some superstar talent to the roster. The acquisition of Al Horford was the writing on the wall for Sullinger who signed with the Toronto Raptors on Monday, for a bargain basement price of $6 million a year.
The contract for Sullinger is a bit of a shock since he remains an above average rebounder. If Timofey Mozgov is getting $16 million a year, after averaging just 4.4 boards per game during 17 minutes of time on the floor, Sullinger certainly has an argument that he should have cashed in on a larger payday.
But it is what it is. Sullinger will go to a strong Raptors squad who will benefit from a motivated (hopefully) guy on another contract year, who can throw some mean outlet passes:
I was not always the biggest fan of Sullinger's game. For some reason he thought he had the three-point ability like a young Chuck Person (timely reference for the young readers of CelticsLife). The truth is Sully should have been banging down low more often, tossing people aside with his wide frame. But he will be missed on the court as well as a teammate who was respected by his peers.
Second-year guard Terry Rozier, while playing in Vegas for the Summer League, had this to say about the now former Celtic:
Rozier on Sullinger: “He’s a great person to have in the locker room with the jokes. He’s definitely a guy you’d notice if he’s not around.”