Mid-range game In summer leagues past, hitting the open 15-foot jumper isn't exactly highlight material. As Jeff points out in his summer league preview, these games are dominated by guards and that means a lot of athletic drives and perimeter shooting, but my eyes will be on how effective Jaren Sullinger and JaJuan Johnson are facing up at the free throw line extended and catching the ball on the baseline. Last season, the Celtics were very successful inverting their offense with their smalls (Rondo and Pierce) creating off the dribble, slashing to the hole, and dishing it to their bigs (Garnett and Bass) for open jumpers; it was that ability that earned Brandon his 3 year, $20 million contract. If Sullinger and/or Johnson want to see any minutes as the back up power forward, they're going to have to gain confidence in their shot. The Celtics' offense is predicated on spreading the floor and manufacturing open looks from off-ball screens and as a Celtic big, you have to hit 'em. Summer league coach Tyrone Lue had these words regarding Sullinger's game:
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Of Sullinger, Lue said, "It's just his knowing how to play. He's a great passer. He's big enough and physical enough to hold a (center) off, and then he can step out and shoot it."
Rebounding This was the bane of the Celtics' all year and really, the last three seasons. It killed us in the 2010 Finals and against the Heat last month. In both cases, injuries to Kendrick Perkins, Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal, and Chris Wilcox hampered those playoff runs, so it was smart for Danny to find younger players to fill those roles. Based on their college careers, Sullinger, Johnson, and Melo to a lesser degree were all very good rebounders; Sullinger and Johnson averaged nearly 9 boards a game in their sophomore and senior seasons with Melo grabbing six in limited minutes. Some Celtic fans have clamored for a youth movement in Boston so that Rondo would have players to run with, but you need to rebound the ball to start a fast break and hopefully, this trio of bigs can do that. Specifically with JaJuan, we haven't seen him suit up in a long time. He spent most of the playoffs in street clothes. There have been a few reports that he's added 10-20 pounds since being drafted and it'll be interesting to see how that added bulk helps him in the trenches.
Defending the pick-and-roll For any rookie or sophomore on the Celtics, this is truly The Ticket to playing time if you want to see the floor for Doc Rivers (pun intended). When Kevin Garnett re-upped for three years, the thinking was that not only did it keep the championship window open, it was also comforting knowing that he'd be around to help the younger players learn the ropes. He's arguably the best pick-and-roll defender in the history of the game and how the C's attack the PnR is a staple of their defense. During the rookie press conference, it was great to hear that KG had already contacted Melo about how much work was going to be put in this summer. Garnett's has publicly said that he'd rather play the 4 than the 5 and although he might start games at center, if Melo can crack the lineup and be a defensive force a la Perkins, that could slide KG back to his comfort zone. Tyrone Lue sounds optimistic:
"The thing with Fab is that I didn't realize he had the feet that he has. He has great feet," Lue said of the young center from Syracuse. "He can show on the pick-and-roll and get back, and I didn't know he had that (jumper). Kris Joseph said he's had that, but coach (Jim Boeheim) wouldn't let him shoot the 15-footer."
My biggest concern is Sullinger. Even though his wingspan (7'1.25") is ridiculous for a guy his height (6'9"), he scored at the bottom in agility and sprint speed before the draft. By comparison, JJJ was a physical phenom at the Draft Combine. Sure, he makes up for his lack of athleticism with his high basketball IQ, but he may not be able to show that off if he can't show hard on a pick-and-roll and recover quickly. There have been a lot of comparisons between him and Glen Davis because of their frame and game. If Sullinger can be as successful as Baby as an undersized positional defender, I'll be happy.