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Boston Celtics Camp Battles: Determining the starting power forward

Jared Sullinger the starter? Not quite.

Jared Wickerham

If you think the Boston Celtics' starting lineup and rotations are set in stone, think again. While most people assume that the opening night starting power forward will be Jared Sullinger, nothing is official.

With sophomore Kelly Olynyk and veteran Brandon Bass still on the roster, training camp and pre-season will be important for Brad Stevens in determining which player will earn that starting role.

"The key question for me is who separates himself, not only as the best players to play, but as the best groups," coach Stevens told the media when asked about how the rotations will shake out.

"But the focus needs to be on what do they do well, how do we put them in positions to succeed, and who accentuates that when they're on the court."

Assuming the Celtics start a "true" center like Tyler Zeller or Vitor Faverani, then we can only pencil in Sullinger as the starting power forward.

On paper, the 6-foot-9 big man provides a lot of positives. He's highly efficient on the low post, can spread the floor with his shot, and is a fantastic rebounder. In fact, you could argue that Sullinger fits the description of a throwback power forward.

But there is no guarantee that's what the Celtics are looking for out of the starting unit in terms of how the pieces all fit together. If Rajon Rondo and Zeller are starting, there are already two players who aren't exactly threats from the outside, so Boston could possibly use at least one big man who can spread the floor beyond the three-point line.

That is why Kelly Olynyk is another strong candidate to start at power forward this season. Olynyk might not be the low post threat or the rebounder that Sullinger is, but he's a superior three-point shooter, passer, and ball handler. Those skills could potentially give him the edge, though Sullinger is still an improving shooter.

"I kind of just wanted to improve as much as I could in as many areas as I could," said Olynyk. "Movement-wise, functionally, and in the weight room I'm trying to get more athletic; whether it's stronger, quicker, faster, because this game is played at such a high athletic level. You're playing with the best athletes in the world."

Before many games last season Olynyk worked with head strength and conditioning coach Bryan Doo on "agility" and "athletic" drills. KO would prance around like a ballerina, balancing himself on one foot, and then spinning around to land on the other.

It was actually quite humorous seeing a big 7-footer with long hair do this, but if you tried to mimic his movements you would see how it'd work to help your athleticism.

Fortunately, the eye test shows that Olynyk has continued this hard work throughout the summer. His arms look more toned and his lower body is a thicker, a sign that he improved his core strength and cut down on his body fat.

In the last two months of the year Olynyk shot 44.4 percent from three. If he continues that hot shooting throughout the pre-season it would not be too surprising if Stevens inks his name in as a starter.

But we're forgetting someone. Entering his fourth year with Boston, he's a knockdown mid-range jump shooter, a hard worker, a versatile defensive player, and a proven veteran. This player also started 73 of 82 games last season.

That player is Brandon Bass, who somehow has become the dark horse for the starting gig. Perhaps it's due to his name being mentioned as a potential trade candidate, but if Bass is in town, he deserves to be in the conversation as a starter.

The goal at the beginning of every season is to put the team on the floor that gives the Celtics the best chance of winning games. Bass shares that sentiment.

When asked about his goals to be a championship contender, Bass said, "Why not? You don't play this game to be mediocre, you play the game and come to practice every morning to try and be the best that you can be. And to be the best, you have to strive to being a champion."

Considering Bass' experience, a lineup with him, Zeller, Green, Bradley, and Rondo could be one of the better defensive units in the Eastern Conference. While Bass doesn't provide the same offensive spark as Sullinger and Olynyk, there is no doubt he is currently a superior individual defensive player.

When it comes to Bass starting, it's also worth considering how potent Sullinger and Olynyk were together last season. Though they only played 544 minutes, the Celtics scored 1.13 points per possession with that combo on the floor.

Starting Zeller and Bass could give the Celtics a superior defensive unit to begin games, and then Sullinger or Olynyk could come off the bench to jump start the offense as they feast against the opponent's weaker bench players.

This is why pre-season is vitally important, contrary to popular belief. Which combinations of bigs play the best together, and how they interact with the guards and wings will be crucial in determining how the rotation flows at the beginning of the season.

But if there's one thing that's for sure, it's that nothing has been determined yet and we won't really know which groups of bigs will be paired together until the month of October is winding down.

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