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Jared Sullinger needs to park it in the paint

Jared Sullinger may improve his outside shooting someday, but his inefficiency makes him better suited to park himself in the paint more this season.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

If the Boston Celtics have any chance at contending for a playoff spot in a weak Eastern Conference, it's going to be essential for one of their young players to take "The Leap" this season. Jared Sullinger is one such young player poised for a breakout season, but in order for him to reach that potential, he'll need to focus on one important message - parking himself in the paint.

During his injury shortened rookie season under Doc Rivers' system, Sullinger attempted only five shots from three-point range, making one of them. Last season, Brad Stevens encouraged Sullinger to expand his game by increasing his range and he responded by hoisting 2.8 attempts from beyond the arc per game. The way the NBA has evolved in recent years has made spacing essential, with teams searching for big men that are capable of hitting shots from the perimeter. That's a role Sullinger has been looking to fill, but it only works if he's making those shots at a high enough rate for opposing defenses to respect his range. At a paltry 26.9% from three-point range last season, Sullinger is a long way off from that.

As Kevin O'Connor recently pointed out, Sullinger's off-season weight loss can help him improve on his outside shot. He makes a valid case for how this can help Sullinger take his game to the next level and I have no doubt that he's capable of improving from that range. However, we need to see that improvement before Stevens can allow him to continue hoisting nearly three attempts from deep per game. It was fine during last season's Tankapalooza, but if the Celtics are looking to escape the lottery this year then they need to become a more efficient offense than the one that finished 27th in offensive efficiency last season (99.7).

Celtics fans hoping that Sullinger can develop into the next Kevin Love may be in for a big disappointment. Sullinger is capable of duplicating many of Love's talents, but right now outside shooting isn't one of them. He's a lot closer to being the next Josh Smith (not a compliment). Don't get me wrong - Smith is a good player with tremendous athletic ability that allows him to impact the game in a variety of ways. He's also developed a bad reputation for his questionable shot selection and poor efficiency. The collective groan from the Detroit Pistons crowd every time Smith launches a contested three-pointer early in the shot clock can be heard all the way from Atlanta, where Hawks fans sympathetically nod their heads.

What Sullinger can do well is set up in the paint and handle the dirty work down low. Last year he shot 59.9% from within three feet of the basket and his weight loss will help him improve upon that if it means he'll now be able to get high enough off the ground to slide a sheet of paper under his sneakers. Despite his efficiency around the basket, Sullinger took only 31% of his shots from in close and hit at a rate of 37.7% or worse from everywhere else on the floor. This is why his overall field goal percentage plummeted to 42.7% last season, which is unacceptable for a player at his position. His True Shooting Percentage of .497 tied him for 282nd in the league. Considering he's actually an above average free throw shooter, that percentage is almost entirely dragged down by his poor outside shooting.

There are other benefits to keeping Sullinger in the paint as well.  His 13.0 Offensive Rebounding Percentage was the 7th best in the league last season. Imagine how many more possessions he could extend with an offensive board if he didn't spend as much time floating around the perimeter!  Sullinger should focus more on cleaning the glass and chipping in with easy put backs.

It's not that Sullinger is incapable of improving his range and becoming a more efficient shooter, but that's not the role this team needs him to play. The Celtics have other bigs on their roster, such as Kelly Olynyk and Brandon Bass, that can stretch the floor and do it more efficiently than Sullinger can at this stage in his career. The team needs someone that can score in the paint and pull down offensive boards and nobody on this roster is better equipped to do that than Sullinger is.

The Celtics need to play to their strengths in order to improve on the offensive end. As it stands right now, Sullinger is best suited in the paint.

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