Sullinger Proving To Be Steal of NBA Draft

BOSTON - NBA, meet Jared Sullinger. Jared Sullinger, meet the NBA.

You two should get to know each other, because you’ll be hanging out for a while.

The Boston Celtics had an intuition back on June 28, 2012, that Sullinger could be the steal of the NBA Draft. That’s why they opted to select the big man with their first pick, which was 21st overall.

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Jared Sullinger has done a great job of warding off opposing players this season while he attacks the glass.
Jared Wickerham/NBAE/Getty Images

The fact that Sullinger was still available at No. 21 tells us that not many teams agreed with Boston’s talent assessment. Those teams believed something was wrong with this not-so-chiseled 20-year-old out of Ohio State.

Sullinger had health issues. He was too chubby. He was too short. He was something – something bad enough to prevent 16 teams from selecting him ahead of Boston. The thought obviously never donned on those teams that Sullinger could become a game-changer for years to come.

Seven months later, the Celtics can say, "Thank you," and, “We told you so,” to all of those teams. The C's were correct, and that fact is ringing loud and clear from Boston.

Sullinger is one of the biggest reasons why the Celtics are currently riding a season-best four-game winning streak. He is a rebounding machine; a machine the Celtics have long been missing.

Sullinger reeled in a Celtics-season-high 16 rebounds during Wednesday’s win over the Suns, and he has averaged 10.0 rebounds per game during Boston’s winning streak. This isn’t an aberration, either. This has been a regularity for some time now. In fact, Sullinger has played only 35 games thus far in his NBA career, but he is already one of the greatest rebounders in the league.

Don’t believe that? Well then, eat this fact up for breakfast, lunch and dinner: Accoriding to the NBA’s advanced statistics tool, Jared Sullinger ranks 19th in the entire NBA in rebounds per 48 minutes.

That’s right – a rookie who is playing on a championship-caliber team has already become a top-20 rebounder in the league. As a Celtics fan, tell me that’s not a satisfying meal.

Sullinger feeds on rebounds and he takes a simple approach to explaining why that is the case.

“You gotta have a go-get-it attitude when it comes to rebounding, and that’s what I have,” he said after Wednesday’s win.

Doc Rivers has known for years that Sullinger possesses that unique attitude. Boston’s coach watched Sullinger pull in loads of rebounds against his son, Austin Rivers, during their years of battles on the AAU circuit.

“I think in one of those games he had something like 26 rebounds. It was crazy watching him,” Rivers said of Sullinger. “I was upset with all my son’s bigs. I actually said, ‘How can that fat, slow guy get all of these rebounds? There’s no way!’ And now I realize he’s not slow and he’s actually not fat.”

So what is he, other than a rebounding machine?

“He’s just – he’s round,” Rivers joked. “But he has great feet, he really does. And you don’t appreciate that for a while when you watch him. He’s quick and he has great feet.”

And that’s on top of the incredible basketball IQ that the Celtics have raved about since Day 1. That combination has some of the all-time greats like Kevin Garnett already using the word “great” to describe Sullinger, a guy who can’t even walk into a bar for a drink yet.

“Obviously his timing, body positioning. He has the perfect body for rebounding,” Garnett said. “He can take the pounding and bump a little bit and he has great anticipation when it comes to the ball, and he has great hands. Put all that in the pot, you got Jared Sullinger. That’s what makes him great.”

This doesn’t make sense, does it? Sixteen teams passed on this kid. They didn’t think he was legit. Now, after 35 games, he’s playing as one of the top rebounders in the NBA and is gaining superlatives like “great” from future Hall of Famers?

Rivers isn’t taken aback by any of that. He saw this coming all along.

“I keep saying, ‘Rebounds translate.’ You know?” Rivers said, alluding to the fact that great collegiate rebounders are usually the same in the pros. “Most of the great rebounders aren’t that tall, when you think about it. They’re big, they’re physical, and they have great instincts.”

Sullinger seemingly has all of those attributes in tow. He’s a 6-foot-9 body that weighs in at 260 pounds. Inside that body is a set of eyes and a brain that instantaneously connect the dots of rebounding. It's hard to believe that such a combination could tumble down 21 flights of the NBA Draft ladder.

But it did. Right into the Celtics' lap. Wednesday night, Rivers recalled three words that passed through his mind when he realized that had happened: “Fortunate. Lucky. Nice,” he said.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand why Rivers felt that way. We’re only 35 games into Sullinger’s rookie season, but from the looks of it, he’s going to be around for a while. As of Jan. 9, 2013, he is the steal of the 2012 NBA Draft, and the Celtics couldn’t be happier to have played the role of thieves.