Counting on any meaningful contributions from rookies is always a questionable reach. Imagining, however, is an almost mandatory summertime exercise. My favorite version is to play “What If” for each of the rookies coming in to camp. The trick is to not only envision what qualities they might bring, but to try to envision what the ripples would be through the rest of the roster, particularly the rotations.
Dateline: August 12, 2012––49 days until the start of training camp!
I suspect that a number of you (foolish/fanatical enough to be rummaging through a Celtics blog site in the dead of summer) may have already run out a few scenarios where Jared Sullinger earns his way onto the court. However in this full-fledged fantasy version of The Rookie Game I’ll try to portray a breakout camp/season for each of our rookies (Sullinger today, the rest tomorrow). I shan’t work through combinations of multiple breakouts (I’m obsessive not crazy) but if my platform diving versions of escaping reality aren’t sufficient for you, you are welcome to try your own bungee jumping or sky diving levels of escapism. ‘Til then feel free to play along.
Sullinger is the most obvious to project, and probably has the most far-reaching consequences. My homerun scenario is a Jared that hits camp streamlined, cut, and in top condition. As long as I am running this as best-case, let’s assume he’s talked Kevin McHale into a month of inside moves tutelage and the Celtics have hired Dave Cowens as big man coach to continue his grooming in camp. With these kick starts perhaps Sully has the lift and quickness to employ his expanded repertoire effectively against the taller and stronger defenders against whom he has struggled to get his shot off and whom he will encounter on a nightly basis in the NBA.
If this falls into place then Jared becomes the low post option that has been in such short supply for decades. Kevin Garnett has been our only real low post threat since Al Jefferson left in the Big Ticket’s acquisition. The fact that is not Garnett’s primary comfort zone would just make Sullinger’s progress all the more serendipitous. With Kevin’s minutes already on an egg timer, Jared stepping up as a rebounder and low post attacker might thrust him into playing almost half the game.
If this develops I can see pairing Kevin and Brandon Bass, with Chris Wilcox playing more with Sully. Unfortunately this minimizes Garnett’s outside jumper which is really his most potent, and preferred, weapon. Also Wilcox’s game is best limited to within 6-10 feet of the basket. So maybe you keep Wilcox close to the rim for most of his time on the court and let any of the other three play at the top of the key, playing pick and pop with the guards. This is a tricky problem because you would like to use each of your assets in roles that maximize their effectiveness.
One way the Sullinger/Wilcox pairing might mesh is to post up Jared letting Wilcox crash the boards or dive the lane if Sully is doubled (not real likely for a rookie but this is the best case supposition). Then if the inside feed is thwarted, Sullinger pops out to the side while Wilcox picks (and rolls) with the guards. This leaves Jared open on the wing, the guard open beyond the pick or open to drive, or Wilcox open at the rim if the pick-and-roll defense falters. An additional advantage of the Sullinger/Wilcox pairing is that Jared is an aware and willing outlet passer; a nice complement to Wilcox who showed value last year running with Rondo on the break.
Regardless of how well pairings work on offense, Doc Rivers will demand that they form an effective defensive tandem. The one duo that I can see might be problematic is Sullinger with Bass. Both are undersized and neither is really a shot blocker. Maybe if a team is going small?
One last ripple thought, most seem to think that Jeff Green will see at least some time at the four. If Sullinger emerges to earn significant minutes, I think that will have its greatest impact at limiting the amount of time that Green plays power forward. Obviously it would also decrease the likelihood that Collins and/or Melo earn significant minutes. Even if Sully pulls his minutes at PF, that more likely just moves Wilcox to putting in his time at center.
One final thought, regardless of whose minutes get squeezed, Sullinger emerging as a legitimate big man would have positive impact throughout the cast of people of large stature. Competition in practice, struggle for playing time, battle in two-man drills, “boxing” practice (and I mean that in the most positive way), and lightening the load on the elders are all side or direct benefits. We can only hope that this mental exercise comes to fruition and that the whole team is strengthened as a result.
Boston, and all points beyond