Through six preseason games with Boston, sophomore big man Jared Sullinger is leading the Celtics in scoring with 11.2 points in just 21 minutes per game. He is also second in rebounding at 5.2 boards, just behind Brandon Bass. Everything seems to be on track for a breakout year for the 6’9 center as Sullinger is still just getting into shape after back surgery last season.
“Everything is not good. I have to get in shape,” Sullinger said. “I have to get ready for this long NBA season. Right now I am going through a little bit of a slump body-wise, but I will be okay.”
Sullinger is playing himself back into basketball shape; a process that he believes could extend a month or two into the regular season. He is mentally ready to play, however, as there have not been obvious adverse effects from his lack of conditioning in preseason games.
“(I’ll be in shape) probably when all the games come pounding in November and December, maybe late December, but right now, I am not really putting a set time,” Sullinger said. “When it happens, it happens. Mentally, I have to get ready to go.”
What stands out with Sullinger’s game is, although he is under-height at the center position, he can adapt his game to take advantage of his opponent’s tendencies. Sullinger credits the mentorship of Kevin Garnett for how quickly he has adjusted to the NBA.
“I was mentored for a whole year by Kevin Garnett,” Sullinger said. “He gave me the knick-knacks of what I have to do with bigs. There are scouting reports throughout the NBA and I know about everybody, what they do defensively, how they defend, so when you have someone like Kevin and you learn from him it makes life so much easier.”
However, Sullinger only played in half an NBA season before back problems cut his rookie year short, so he still has a lot of room to grow.
“Like I said, I had Kevin Garnett, so I knew everybody’s tendencies,” Sullinger said. “It was so easy learning. You go through little struggles; I had to find my comfort zone in the NBA and I am still trying to find it coming off of back surgery.”
Those lessons learned from Garnett still impact Sullinger’s approach this season even without the fiery All-Star there to drive the message home. Sullinger knows he is going to be successful in this league by studying his opponents.
“You have to learn everything about the game of basketball,” Sullinger said. “Offensively, you have to know what their defensive tendencies are. Do they bite on shot fakes, do they let you go middle, do they like power or not like power. You have to know little stuff like that.
“There are times when you have to bull your way through, but also, there are times when you have to be smart and know who you are dealing with. You have to know who you are playing with offensively and defensively.”
The Celtics have made the necessary changes to begin rebuilding this roster and Sullinger is one of the young players who will benefit from increased playing time and opportunities to contribute on the court. A breakout season should be expected from the former Ohio State star.
“Everybody is playing for one another and everybody is playing the right way,” Sullinger said. “I am just trying to help this team win in the best possible way.”