An accelerated recovery from summer back surgery has Jared Sullinger playing better than ever. His threes are beginning to drop, but I ask: is that a good thing?
After a late-November win against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Jared Sullinger told reporters that he's always been given the green light when it comes to the long ball.
"Before I got hurt, Doc gave me the leeway to shoot the three, and I got hurt so I couldn't really do it."
In that win, Jared was locked in from three-point range, hitting four of his five attempts. Actually, all 12 of his points were a product of the three ball, as he missed every shot attempt from close range. One wouldn't have to look far back to see the last time Boston's young power forward showed this uncommon skill set. One game prior, Sullinger hit two threes in the final minutes of a near comeback against the Memphis Grizzlies. If we combined that final quarter from the Grizzlies game with the four quarters from the Cav's game, Jared just shot 6-8 from deep.
Celtics' broadcaster Tommy Heinsohn praised the ability for Sullinger to make these type of shots, saying it can beautifully disrpupt a defense. He's right. Bringing out your power forward or center to guard a deep threat leaves the paint largely unguarded. When a defense does that against Boston, it leaves room for guys like Jeff Green or Jordan Crawford to penetrate and make plays.
Head coach Brad Stevens has also been in favor of the three. After the victory over Cleveland, he reiterated:
"My deal is if you can make the three, then you might as well shoot it when your open."
Makes sense, right?
In most ways, yes. But, Jared Sullinger proved early in his career that he's an above average rebounder. In only his second season, Sullinger already owns a reputation for finding and securing great position when rebounding. So, do the Celtics really want him hanging out at the three-point line so often?
According to stats from Basketball-reference.com, over the last six games, Jared has averaged three 3PA's (three-point shots attempted). Prior to that, he was averaging just 1.8 (over 10 games). Surprisingly, even with the rise in attempts, Sullinger's total rebounds per game has improved (17 at San Antonio and 12 against Memphis).
As we've seen an increase in total rebounds, his offensive rebound percentage (ORB%) has actually decreased. Offensive rebound percecentage basically estimates how many available rebounds a player records in a game. For Sullinger, that number sat at a spectacular 11.09% through his first 10 games. For context, Kevin Love is currently averaging 11.1%.
Over the past six games however, that number dropped substantially to 9.26%. It's no surprise that when Sullinger spends more time at the three-point line, his chances to grab offensive rebounds lower. The dip in ORB% shouldn't be considered a major issue, as he's proving the three-point shot is well within his arsenal (unlike Faverani). One could argue that Sullinger scores well from anywhere on the court, so keeping him in the paint would be most efficient, where he could also rebound. Though if his deep shots continue to fall, there is no arguing with consistency.
Sullinger is grabbing more rebounds per game and it's masking the fact that he's actually recovering at a lower percentage on offense. The first approach to consider is for him to continue sharpening his three-ball, and hope the offensive rebounding duties can be filled elsewhere on the roster. The other idea is to have him come back into the paint more, and play the position the way he's played it in the past.
Ultimately, understanding your enemies should help determine which area to focus on, and Brad Stevens knows that. In recent postgame, Stevens hinted to utilizing your skill set as it relates to your opponent. That will ring true as the season progresses. There will be games where Sullinger plays a traditional power forward role, battling in the paint; but there will also be these hybrid-type games. Games where our 280-pound power forward makes it rain from deep. Think Rasheed Wallace. Just kidding.