There’s not a big man hotter than Jared Sullinger, at least three games into February.
He is averaging 23.7 points and 12.7 rebounds in registering a double-double in his first three games of the month. Not coincidentally, the Celtics have followed up their worst month in history with a 3-0 start to February.
Friday night, he had a career high 31 points and 16 rebounds in posting his fourth straight double-double overall in a 99-89 win over the Kings. Perhaps just as impressive is the fact that he accomplished those numbers against another power big in DeMarcus Cousins.
“I think we’re doing a better job looking for him,” Brad Stevens said. “He feels a little bit better even though that dislocated finger’s still wrapped up. I think he feels better every day, and you know, it’s like we talked about last week: fair or unfair, that’s who we need him to be. And so that’s the opportunity in front of him. He’s capable and I’m not saying that you have to get a double-double every day but he’s darn near capable of doing that. And so I think that the more that we can continue to build off that, the better.
“[Sullinger] is a 6-foot-7 [big man]. That’s the one thing. And that’s what makes Jared unique is he’s a big, strong guy that can score over bigger guys in the post. But then, that’s why it’s so critical, and we’ve talked about it, that he continues to work and refine his perimeter game, which he’s obviously doing well with. But it’s not where it will be someday.”
What is Sullinger’s ceiling?
“How high does he reach?” Stevens deadpanned. “He’s not there. That’s the good news. He’s not there; he can get better. And I think, obviously, 31 and 16 is great; can you do that every night? No one in the league is doing that every night. But the bottom line is, as he continues to improve, as he continues to get more games underneath his belt, as he continues to get further away from the surgery and gets another more freshness and another summer of work and all of those things, I just think that the sky’s the limit. He’s playing at a nice level, there’s no question about it, but I really believe that he can be a consistent double-double guy.’
Sullinger is averaging 13.4 points and a team leading 8.1 rebounds in a season where he easily could be considered the team MVP. His scoring is up nearly four points from his rookie season and his rebounds are up one per game over last season.
“It is just more space, in college I was double all the time so I had to find ways to score,” Sullinger said. “That’s why my offensive rebounding has been the way it has been, I had to find other ways to score in college.”
Something else that’s been better in the last three games is Sullinger’s demeanor on the court.
“I just went out and played my game I have been doing it for the last couple of games and just have been letting go. I am showing better body language according to my father,” Sullinger said with a sheepish grin.
While the winning may be hurting the team’s draft position, Stevens is just happy that there are clear signs that the right pieces are in place.
“I think the nice part about it is at the end of the day, you had Phil Pressey out on the floor at 22 or 23 years old, you had Kelly Olynyk on the floor, you had Jared Sullinger on the floor, you had a lot of young guys on the floor but it was also we had a lot of real savvy basketball players out there,” Stevens said. “And I think this team is really figuring out what they do best individually and playing off of that. I thought the guy who really lifted us in a lot of ways was Gerald (Wallace). I thought his physicality and toughness all over the court was great.”