After having his rookie season cut short due to back surgery, second-year forward Jared Sullinger returned to the court for the Boston Celtics in 2013-14 and despite a disappointing season overall for the team, the young big man showed tremendous individual growth and more importantly, managed to stay on the floor. Sullinger appeared in 74 games for the Celtics this season, starting in 44 of them, and averaged 13.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. Sullinger was one of the team’s most consistent performers and their most productive frontcourt player despite the fact he played the majority of the season out of position at center, a situation which appears set to change.
In an interview with ABC6, Jared’s father Satch Sullinger explained that the team has promised to bring in a legitimate center next season and that Sullinger will spend the offseason getting in shape and improving his mobility in preparation for a switch to the four spot full-time.
“Next year, I think he’s going to get to finally get to play his true position of power forward. And so at that point, he’s going to come home and he’s going to trim down and shed some pounds, so he gets a quicker step and a little more mobility. Because they’ve kinda promised him that they’re (the Celtics) going to get a center.”
At 6’9” and listed at 280 pounds, Sullinger has the strength to battle inside with the big men of the NBA. However, his below-the-rim game and length means he is unable to defend the rim like a traditional center should. Sullinger spent 964 minutes this season sharing the frontcourt with Brandon Bass, by far the most of any other frontcourt player and at 6’8” Bass is a power forward exclusively. The Celtics’ interior defense was among the worst in the NBA, and having Sullinger playing center was a huge part of the problem.
After rehabbing from surgery, Sullinger came into the season out of shape and despite his productive numbers really didn’t make significant changes to his body throughout the season. Perhaps the physical toll of playing center was part of the reason, but an offseason spent cutting some pounds and improving his mobility can only mean good things for him and the Celtics as a whole. Sullinger obviously made a conscious effort to try and extend his range this season, taking 208 three-pointers and that shooting stroke along with improved foot speed would be an ideal fit at power forward along with a true rim protector.
Not only does this signify the first of many changes for the Celtics this offseason, but at the same time shows a clear indication that Danny Ainge plans on using the draft or the trade market to acquire a true center prior to next season. There are limited options in the draft outside of Kansas freshman Joel Embiid, so it is likely that Ainge will be actively looking to make a deal with a rim-protecting center in mind. With Sullinger, Brandon Bass, Kelly Olynyk and free agent Kris Humphries all suiting the power forward position, it is also a clear sign that at least one of those players will not be with the team going forward. Sullinger’s change of position is just the first of a number of changes expected for the Celtics roster and it will be interesting to see the domino effect this has going into the NBA Draft in June.