The Toronto Raptors are genuinely excited to land the Boston Celtics free agent starting power forward/center Jared Sullinger, but questions immediately came up about how the 6’9 270 (cough cough) lb big man would fit in defensively on the Raptors. Toronto lost last year’s big defensive deterrent in the paint Bismack Biyombo to free agency and Sullinger isn’t exactly known for blocking shots.
President and general manager Masai Ujiri sees the Raptors adapting their defense to fit with Sullinger’s strengths.
“Defensive rebounding and building a wall,” Ujiri responded to Pro Bball Report. “I know Biyombo was a shot blocker, but we will probably have a different type of defense now with a big wall there and sometimes now you might not get that shot blocked, but (Sullinger) will stand in front of you and you’ll know he’s there.”
Sullinger isn’t a direct replacement for what Biyombo brought to the Raptors last season. Both players are among the elite in rebounding, but where Biyombo was a deterrent at the rim on defense, Sullinger has the ability to put up a lot of points and just maybe that will give head coach Dwane Casey a little more flexibility as he can play Jonas Valanciunas or Patrick Patterson with Sullinger and not lose his floor spacing, paint presence or defensive rebounding. Raptors fans will remember Sullinger’s 25 point 20 rebound game against Toronto.
“The basketball I.Q. is the biggest thing for me,” Ujiri said. “I love to talk about the picks he sets which will be great for our guys. He stretches the floor and he can play the four and the five.
“To be limited (by the salary cap) and to get a guy like this without having to move anybody, it fell in our lap. We got extremely lucky and we are extremely excited.”
“(Sullinger) is going to be our starting four guy,” Casey said on Sportsnet 590 The Jeff Blair Show. “Our goal is to get him and JV (Jonas Valanciunas) to mesh offensively and defensively.
“He has an opportunity to step in and solidify the power forward position.
“He is going to be able to play not only the four position, he is going to bounce over to the five. It is up to us to mesh he and JV and Patrick (Patterson) and our other bigs in that situation to get that rotation solidified.”
While there is absolutely nothing wrong with Sullinger’s skills, effort or all around play, weight issues have haunted him since he was drafted and he needs to get in better shape if he’s to take full advantage of his opportunity in Toronto.
“Jared is going to have to get out and guard some of the Kevin Loves of the Association and move his feet if guys like Chris Bosh comes back and guard guys out on the perimeter and he’s done that,” Casey said. “I’ve watched a lot of film on him and his charge – and he said it yesterday in his press conference – and it’s no secret that he has to get into the best condition of his career.”
The Raptors were lucky to get Sullinger. The Celtics had made him a restricted free agent and didn’t pull their qualifying offer until nearly all of the money available in free agency was gone. Sullinger was left to choose between playing for money on a bad team and taking the Raptors Mid Level exception to play in a winning situation. He chose winning and that says a lot about what’s important to this young man.
“It’s a winning situation,” Sullinger said. “If you look at history, you look at Masai’s track record, you will understand that those (other) offers were nice, but at the end of the day it’s all about winning and open opportunity and I see an open opportunity and I also see winning and that’s what made it a no-brainer.”