Jared Sullinger accomplished something last season that few players have done in the last 50 years of the NBA. Only 34 players since 1964, including Sullinger, have averaged 24 points, 14 rebounds, and 4 assists per 100 possessions in a season.
This list includes Hall of Famers like Charles Barkley and Arvydas Sabonis to modern stars like Tim Duncan and Kevin Love. Here's the full list:
I talked with Sullinger before Wednesday's game against the Indiana Pacers and showed him these stats to get his reaction, which he said it was "pretty cool."
"I give a lot of credit to my family for not putting limits on me," Sullinger said of his ability to impact the game in different ways, adding that his high school coach and father, Satch Sullinger, let him take on ball handling duties when opponents denied his teammates, Devon Moore and Trey Burke.
"That was just my dad allowing me to spread my skill-set," Sullinger said. "Hell, in seventh grade I started point guard for my middle school team, as big as I was. I was like 5-foot-9, but I was big, I was thick, really couldn't move but I handled the point guard duties and I put us into our offense. So I'm kind of used to scoring in multiple ways."
The "24, 14, and 4 per 100" averages are arbitrary -- but they're no more arbitrary than a "triple double" or "20 and 10." All 34 players on the list above had or are having productive careers. Some, like Karl Malone had long, historic careers. Others, like Jeff Ruland had a few All-Star seasons before injuries prematurely ended their careers.
But all these players filled up the box score as do-it-all big men who make a diverse impact scoring buckets, crashing the boards, and creating for teammates.
As statistically rare as Sullinger's 2014-15 season was, the start of this year has been even better. After spending the summer working hard to improve his conditioning, Sullinger has seen his numbers boosted accordingly.
So far this season, Sullinger is fifth in Box Plus/Minus and 20th in Player Efficiency Rating, both career highs. On a per-minute basis, he's been a super productive player; per 100 possessions, he's averaging 23.9 points, 17.3 rebounds, and 4.5 assists.
"I don't know that those numbers are applicable yet. But that's a good sign, obviously it's better than not being," Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said when asked about Sullinger's stats. "Offensively, he's taking what the defense is giving him. He's shooting it great. He's scoring off offensive rebounds. He was in the post yesterday a little bit. He's a guy who can score in a variety of ways. The more he can take advantage of in a game, the better."
As Stevens alluded to -- it's early, and it's a small sample size. But it's a positive Sullinger is experiencing career highs in REB%, AST%, and 3PT%.
Sullinger's past production suggested that he was better shooting with more days off, and his missed threes tended to clank off the front-rim. But after losing weight he appears to have his legs underneath him, and he's draining threes at 44.4%. Sullinger is also excelling in the pick-and-roll/pop, scoring an elite 1.54 points per possession, according to Synergy via NBA.com.
If there's one place Sullinger's improved conditioning has helped him most, it's on the defensive end. Sullinger's Defensive Box Plus/Minus ranks in the top 10 of the league.
"The biggest thing is that defensively I think he's improved," Stevens said before the game. "He's been very good at reading when to be back and when to be up, especially in pick-and-roll coverages."
Sullinger is also averaging career-high per possession averages in steals, blocks, and defensive rebounds. He's consistently battling inside, and for the most part he hasn't taken plays off on the defensive.
After Sullinger got off to a slow start in preseason, many expected him to be the odd-man out in the crowded rotation of bigs. But Sullinger has risen to the top, and leads all Celtics bigs in minutes this season.
"Most definitely," Sullinger said when asked by CelticsBlog if it there was a learning curve adjusting to his new body. "Just knowing you don't have certain weight you can throw around, like you could always do. It was an adjustment."
However, the key now will be for Sullinger to sustain his success over a full season. It's one thing to be extremely productive in smaller doses, but the point of getting into better conditioning was to do it for long periods of time.
Sullinger did admit he still has a long way to go to be as good as he can be.
"But I'm still working. Just because the summer's ended, it doesn't mean that I can't work. There's other ways I can work, whether it's the swimming pool and all that good stuff. So I'm constantly working and constantly getting ready for every game."
It's early, but the arrow is pointing up for Jared Sullinger and the Boston Celtics.