Jared Sullinger Generates Buzz as Starter for Celtics in Europe, But Brandon Bass Still Solid at Power Forward


Jared Sullinger Generates Buzz as Starter for Celtics in Europe, But Brandon Bass Still Solid at Power ForwardJared Sullinger
was everything the Celtics needed in their
week-long romp abroad. He gobbled up rebounds for a team that has been weak on
the glass. He ran around like a bandit while his more seasoned teammates
gradually worked themselves into regular-season shape. He brought energy to
arenas where the crowds failed to live up to Europe’s reputation for manic
fans.

In addition to all that, Sullinger was a starter for
Sunday’s game against Emporio Armani Milano, joining three-fifths of the normal
first unit — plus Jason Terry — for most of the opening quarter. Once again,
the rookie out of Ohio State put in a strong effort, scoring nine points and
collecting seven boards in 18 minutes to follow his 16-point, eight-rebound
performance on Friday in Istanbul.

In other words, Sullinger looked every bit the lottery pick
he was projected to be prior to last year’s college season. His interior play
was an intriguing complement to his mostly perimeter-bound teammates, tempting
some kneejerk observers to wonder if he should move into the starting lineup
permanently. Such a move may be coming eventually, but without much notice
Brandon Bass reminded the Celtics that the starting power forward position is
occupied.

Sullinger rebounds and finds creative ways to score inside,
and he was good at what he does on Sunday. But Bass provided the same high
level of production in different areas, hitting all five shots he took and
finishing with eight rebounds in 25 minutes. The player who hesitated when his
initial shot was not there last year was decisive for the second time in as
many preseason games, confidently letting jump shots fly and drawing contact
when a defender challenged him.

Bass’ contributions tend to get forgotten by outsiders, and
his importance should not be overstated. Of the Celtics’ incumbent starters, he
may be the most replaceable, although Courtney Lee will do much to determine
Avery Bradley‘s true value early in the season. If Celtics coach Doc Rivers
suddenly decided he wanted 200-pound Micah Downs to start at power forward,
Bass would probably accept his new reserve role without a peep, because he is
not a boat-rocker.

The attraction to Sullinger therefore is understandable. He
is a 6-foot-9, 260-pound, 20-year-old power forward with some developing
back-to-the-basket moves, great rebounding instincts, an underrated midrange
shot and respectable man-to-man defensive skills. The Celtics have not had a
power forward with that combination of talents since Kevin Garnett played the
position, and the combination of Garnett and Sullinger offensively (emphasis on
“offensively”) is probably already better than the Garnett-Kendrick
Perkins
combo ever was.

Still, these were second-tier opponents in two games that
did not count. Emporio Armani made Darko Milicic look like a beast, which might
have been the Italian squad’s greatest accomplishment. Sullinger’s tardiness to
rotate defensively was exposed by Fenerbahce Ulker point guard Bo McCalebb, so
one can only imagine what Derrick Rose or even Monta Ellis would be capable of
in the same situation. Sullinger still needs to prove that he can score over
longer, more athletic defenders, which he did not encounter in Istanbul or
Milan.

Sullinger as a starter is an interesting prospect,
especially since Bass was effective off the bench in Dallas and Orlando. Bass’
off-ball defense is no masterpiece, either, but he improved drastically
alongside Garnett last season and he may be just as physical as Sullinger at
that end of the floor. Sullinger, like everybody else, seemed to play better
when Rondo was on the court, yet he also played well with Jeff Green.

We probably will see Sullinger starting for the Celtics at
some point — maybe sooner than most young players have under Rivers — but
while Sullinger’s play may have piqued some interest on a football Sunday in
October, Bass quietly continued to contribute, as usual. That is why Bass, on
merit, is still the Celtics’ starting power forward, for now.

Have a question for
Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

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