Despite a solid preseason debut in which he tallied 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field, Celtics forward Jared Sullinger seems to be falling out of favor in Brad Stevens' rotation. And while he certainly can't control how well his teammates perform (quite well, I might add), he hasn't shown enough in his own game to convince Stevens he deserves minutes over Amir Johnson, David Lee, Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller. What, then, does that mean for Sully as we head into the 2015-16 regular season? And if he doesn't carve out a role for himself, what does that do to his trade value?
We discuss that here.
Ok, it is still early in the preseason and we're not supposed to read too much into rotations, ...but it sure seems like Jared Sullinger is on the outside looking in on the big man rotation. Is anyone else worries that if he starts the season with a series of DNP-CD's (did not play—coach's decision) his confidence (and trade value) could go into the tank?
I'm a little worried, yeah. Over the first three games he's easily been the least effective of the bigs and if he doesn't show Brad something throughout the remainder of the preseason I think he'll find himself in a situation he doesn't want to be in. This isn't to say that Sullinger is bad, because he's not. He's just had a really rough go of it to start and I haven't seen him do much of anything he talked about over the summer. He's still shooting a good amount of threes instead of posting up and he hasn't been great on the glass. Even if he was playing really well I'm not sure we'd get a haul in return for him but this certainly doesn't help.
This is a tough question because you can look at it from different angles. Jared Sullinger is a talented big man and he can produce with an exceptional amount of floor time, but if he isn't helping the team like the other bigs, I am not so worried. What I am more worried about is his trade value, because at this point, his value in a deal might be more valuable than what he can do for the Celtics in a game. Every year, we find ourselves wondering, "Is this the year that Sullinger breaks out?" But it never is. So overall...yeah...I am a bit worried.
I will say that Sullinger was saying the right things in an interview recently. He put the focus on winning as a team, and took it off of his own playing time. With that being said, he hasn't shown off the supposed improvements he made over the summer. He is still a capable player, to be clear. However, with the excessive quantity and quality of talent at his position, Sully is starting to look expendable.
He's just not a fit. Forget about the numbers he put up in the past and what you might project them to be in the future. His playing style just doesn't work in this system. Defensively, despite the fact that he's a very good defensive rebounder, he can't switch on picks and is very slow on rotations. Offensively, he doesn't make decisions quick enough and when he does, they usually amount to a bad perimeter shot or a challenged baby hook in the paint. However, I think he still has value, but the biggest problem is the deadline on his rookie extension. It's unlikely we'll sign him to a cheap rookie extension before Halloween and anybody interested in him will/should wait until he's available as a restricted free agenct next summer. Ainge has been good getting value back on almost every player that's been on the roster since 2013, but Sullinger might be dead weight at this point.
Even if Sullinger doesn't improve at all from last season, he's still a solid player who rebounds effectively and scores in different ways. If Kelly Olynyk continues to ascend, and Tyler Zeller does too, along with the presence of David Lee and Amir Johnson, then the Celtics are in pretty good shape this season at the big man position. Going forward, they still would be with Olynyk, Zeller, Jordan Mickey, and loads of cap space and draft picks. I'm not sure if we should be worrying about Sullinger, when there's so much good happening elsewhere.
He's definitely expendable. The question is, does he go via trade? Do we let him walk in free agency by not extending him a qualifying offer this summer? Obviously you'd like to get something back in return but team's might see that we don't have a need for him and just wait until the summer to go after him.
Well, we can probably rule out the Celtics giving Sullinger an extension before the season. This is still a "prove it" season for Sully, but it will be difficult for him to earn his next contract off the bench. That being said, it's far too early to hit the panic button. Keep in mind that the Celtics are incorporating two veterans in Amir Johnson and David Lee into their front court rotation. Brad Stevens knows what he's getting from Sullinger, so the preseason is the opportune time to see how the new guys fit in this system.
If the regular season begins with Sullinger at the bottom of the depth chart, that's when it becomes a concern. He does like the type that would struggle if his confidence is shaken by a reduction in his role. Given that he is aiming for a big payday after the season, not getting the playing time he believes he deserves could cause frustration to boil over and become a distraction for the team.
At this point though, isn't Jordan Mickey ahead of Sullinger on the depth chart? Stevens called him the best player in practice on Tuesday ("he dominated") and, in limited minutes, he's shown his defensive prowess and been aggressive on drives and finishing at the rim. Sully, on the other hand, has settled for a lot of contested jumpers and done little in the playmaking department.
I think the coach is heaping praise on Mickey as a way of motivating him and the rest of the team. I don't think that's an indication of where he stands on the depth chart, especially after Mickey got a DNP-CD. With that said, long term I think Mickey fits the style and plans for the team better. Once he gets a little less raw, I think he'll be a solid contributor.
My concern for Sully is from an asset perspective. I hate to see a guy that (like me) were hoping could be a central piece in a major trade morph into a fringe rotation player with little-to-no trade value. But it happens. Some guys hit and some guys miss. I still think Sully has talent and perhaps he just needs a new situation.
He definitely has talent. The problem is his teammates that play the same positions he does seem to have more. Or maybe they just put it to better use.
Count me as a Sullinger optimist. It is disappointing he has gotten off to a slow start this preseason, but three games shouldn't overshadow that he has averaged 17 and 10 per 36 minutes over each of the past two years. The fact that Sullinger is fifth on the depth chart shows the improvements the Celtics have made to the roster. Not playing at the beginning of the year could hurt his confidence, but it could also have a different effect.
Sullinger admitted a light switch has to go off for him to make changes, and not finding playing time—which never happened this past season—should definitely flip that switch. If Sully does play a lot this year, that could allow the Celtics to bring him back on a low money, prove it deal this offseason. David Lee is on an expiring contract, and there are no guarantees Amir Johnson and/or Tyler Zeller are back next year either. The Celtics have four bigs who are better fits right now, but that won't necessarily be the case moving forward, especially if Sully improves on his game. In my opinion, you can do a lot worse than a guy like him as a fourth big.
I'm not worried about Sully's value too much. A good GM will recognize his talent and know that it's just not a fit for these Celtics. Put him on a slower pace, grinding team like the Lakers, Heat, Nets, Grizzlies, or Bulls and he could excel.
The Grizzlies would be an interesting team for him to go to. Playing behind a guy like Zach Randolph who has essentially the same build as Sully could do wonders for his game. But I don't know what we could take back from them in return if we were to trade him to Memphis.
He's in Boston now, though, so that's all that matters at this point, I guess. It will be interesting to see this develop as the season goes on.