Rivers With Telling Comments on Sullinger
By Brandon Castel
The relationship between Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers and Jared Sullinger, one of the team’s two first round draft picks, seems to be, in many ways, a perfect match.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Rivers is a former NBA All-Star, whose biggest claim to fame as a coach is getting three NBA superstars to play selfless, defensive-oriented, team-first basketball on their way to a championship in 2008.
He won’t have to work hard to get those things out of Sullinger, who is already fitting in well with the Green and White during his first stretch of NBA Summer League games.
“Jared is what we thought he was,” Rivers told reporters last week after the Celtics had agreed to dump second-year forward JaJuan Johnson a deal for veteran two-guard Courtney Lee.
“He's a terrific rebounder, a great passer, and can shoot the ball better than I think people knew, so he's been great.”
Celtics general manager Danny Ainge was the one who wanted Sullinger with the first of Boston’s picks in the 2012 NBA Draft. He had thought about trading up into the teens because he saw Sullinger as a player who was polished and savvy enough to help the Celtics win now.
“He’s a good player,” Ainge told reporters this past week.
“He's smart, passes, shoots the ball well, good rebounder. He's 20 years old and we could use him this year. I think he could contribute.”
There were a number of major question marks concerning Sullinger, which caused him to slip from a potential top 10 pick in last year’s draft to No. 21 overall this year. Health, athleticism and size were all reasons for trepidation as teams tried to access how Sullinger’s game would translate to the physical style of the NBA.
He got his first taste of professional basketball this summer with Boston’s Summer League team, and the 20-year-old Sullinger looked impressive in his debut against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Sullinger scored 20 points and grabbed six rebounds in his first game. He has proven to be an effective rebounder, averaging 8.6 boards per game through his first five contests. That’s good for sixth most in the NBA’s Summer League, but Sullinger has not been without growing pains.
After scoring 20 in his first game, he has struggled to score consistently against the length of NBA forwards and centers in the paint. That’s OK with his new head coach.
“I think his scoring on the post will be against same-size or smaller guys,” Rivers said of Sullinger, who is averaging 11.2 points per game this summer.
“I think he'll struggle against bigger guys on the post and that's fine.”
He is shooting only 30 percent from the floor, but has been able to step outside and knock down his midrange jump shot on occasion. He is playing against other young players and guys just trying to make NBA 12 man rosters. Sullinger should benefit from the extra playing time he will see now that Johnson is gone.
Both he and Fab Melo, the Celtics other first round pick, will get a chance to work more closely with veteran forward Kevin Garnett once the veterans return to practice, which is something Rivers is looking forward to with both of his young forwards.
“I think Fab will appreciate having Kevin on the team. And so will Jared,” he added.
“I think he has a lot to teach them, and if they're open to learning, they have a chance to be great. If they're not open to learning, they don't have a chance to be great.”
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