Sullinger Erasing Questions with Production

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It was a summer of speculation for Jared Sullinger. Questions surrounding a contract extension, social media posts about weight loss, skepticism regarding his place on a newly constructed roster. Who would he be in his fourth season in the NBA?

Five games in, Sullinger has been quieting critics and powering his way into a significant role on the Boston Celtics. On Friday he scored 21 points along with eight rebounds in 22 minutes off the bench in the Celtics 118-98 win over the Washington Wizards.

“He’s really shooting the ball well,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “He’s always been a good face-up shooter. He’s shooting it probably even better right now, at least in the last couple of weeks.”

The 23 year old is averaging 11.6 points (on 46.2 perecent shooting from the field) and 7.4 rebounds in 22 minutes for the season. In addition, he has scored in double digits in three of his first five games. His field goal attempts in the last three games has doubled from the start of the season, and he made nine of his 13 shots against the Wizards.

Sullinger has been finding himself with open looks, but understands why an opponent wouldn’t exactly rush to double team him.

“They really sat back on the jump shot, I think because the way I shot the ball in the preseason was horrible,” Sullinger said. “Now that my shot is coming, I’m just shooting the open shots.”

Sullinger is making an impact with more than his offense. In addition to averaging 9.5 boards in the past three contests, the 6’9, 260 pound forward has been effective on help defense as well.

“He’s probably our best defensive rebounder,” said Stevens. “The other thing that he did a good job of was he noticed when we were behind defensively, and so he’d jump out on (Bradley) Beal, jump out on (John) Wall and make it a little bit more difficult. He was very aware.”

Sullinger credits his conditioning for his improved defense. His weight has been under a microscope his entire career, especially as he battled back and foot injuries that kept him sidelined for long periods of time. With better conditioning this season, Sullinger is able achieve more on both ends of the floor.

“Before, Coach Stevens says, ‘We need to score the ball’ and being the young guy that I was I’m like, ‘Ok, well he wants me to score the ball. Maybe I can take a break on defense,’” he recounted. “I’m more mature and understanding that both ends really matter.

“Moving forward, for us to be a good Celtics team and make a run in the playoffs, we’ve got to do it on both ends. We can’t take a break. If you’re tired, come out of the game. It’s nothing personal. (I’m) just doing it on both ends and trying to better myself.”

Game by game, Sullinger is chipping away at the doubts and skepticism that hovered around him entering the season. His impressive play now lends itself to a new question — can he keep this up for the entire season?

“He’s really, really good,” said Kelly Olynyk. “He shot the ball well, got to the basket, had those floaters, rebounded the ball. … That’s the Jared we know. Hopefully he shows that every game.”