With floor spacing and three-point shooting at a premium in today’s NBA, the majority of the league’s franchises now covet big men that can stroke it from long range. The problem is, there are only so many legitimate "stretch-4’s" to go around, and some of the best in the business – i.e., Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Love, Channing Frye, Ryan Anderson – are already committed to the Dallas Mavericks, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Orlando Magic and the New Orleans Pelicans, respectively.
But just because you might not have one of those four guys on your roster doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. There are less proven shooting giants such as Patrick Patterson of the Toronto Raptors, Paul Millsap of the Atlanta Hawks and even Shawne Williams of the Miami Heat. All of which could more than likely be had for the right price.
If you’re not willing to spend, though, there’s one last option: develop one. The Utah Jazz are trying to do just that with Enes Kanter, granted, with mix results. The Celtics, however, are having much more success in creating their own massive marksman out of third-year big man Jared Sullinger.
Since he entered the league back in 2012, Sullinger has improved his shooting efficiency from beyond the arc with each passing season. As a rookie under Doc Rivers, he only attempted five threes in 45 games, misfiring on all but one of them. The next year, 2013-14, first-year head coach Brad Stevens encouraged Sully to fire away from deep whenever the opportunity presented itself. As a result, Sully wound up taking a whopping 208 threes in 74 games, knocking down about 27% of those looks.
That result left plenty to be desired and many began to wonder whether or not Sully had any business jacking up threes at all. Those questions were still abound to begin the year, as the former Ohio State standout began the year shooting just 11% (2-18) from deep through the Celtics’ first seven games of the season.
Things changed quickly, though, following Sully’s 19-point, 10-rebound performance against the Cavaliers back on November 14. That night, Sullinger connected on 80% of his three point attempts (4-5). Since then, the Celtics have played 11 games and Sullinger has failed to shoot at least 44% from distance just three times in that span. And it’s not like he’s just posting consistent 1-2 shooting nights. He’s taken a total of 50 threes (4.5 per game) and has cashed in on 23 of them, which equates to a scorching 46% clip.
The life of his current hot streak has seen his three-point field goal percentage skyrocket from the dismal 11% from earlier in the season to a very respectable 36.8%. What’s even more impressive is that defenders are beginning to respect his ability to shoot from three-point range. Despite the pressure, Sully has kept his composure, knocking down 38.1% of his attempts with a defender 4-6 feet away and 33% when a defender is 2-4 feet away, per NBA.com.
Sullinger still has room to grow, like adding the corner three to his game. He’s only taken three shots from that spot on the floor this season and has missed all of them. Instead, he’s thrived above the break (area above the actual three point arc before it breaks into straight lines into either corner). He’s attempted 64 threes from that area and has knocked down nearly 38% of those tries.
You can see in the video below that his confidence from that specific spot on the floor is at an all time high. He receives the pass from Rajon Rondo on the break, steps into his shot while completely ignoring both DeMarre Carroll’s and Paul Millsap’s closeouts and drains the jumper.
Sullinger obviously isn’t even close to being in the same category as Nowitzki, Love, and Frye – he may never be – but his ability to space the floor has been huge for the Celtics and will continue to be as he keeps improving. Look for him to continue putting up threes when the defense gives them to him and don’t be surprised if he sustains or improves his current 36% percent mark throughout the rest of the season.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. Video courtesy of BasketBall Universe on YouTube.