WALTHAM, Mass. — Though he won’t be participating in the upcoming NBA summer league, Boston Celtics forward Jared Sullinger has been a full participant at practice this week.
That extra offseason work has allowed him to catch an early look the team’s top draft pick, Marcus Smart, and after two days on the court with the rookie, Sullinger is impressed with what he’s seen.
“I think the biggest thing that shocked me the most is, everyone said how good of an offensive player he is, but defensively, he’s just as good,” Sullinger told reporters after Wednesday’s session. “I think that’s a great attribute that he has, and the way he competes. He doesn’t let loose balls get away from him, he’s diving on loose balls, he’s trying to take charges, he’s doing it all, so it’s a big-time help.”
Given Smart’s reputation as a fierce competitor during his time at Oklahoma State, it’s no surprise that he’s been flying around the court in his first official NBA practices. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge raved about the 20-year-old’s intangibles after selecting him No. 6 overall last week — a characterization Sullinger agreed with wholeheartedly.
“Marcus’ last name pretty much says it all about him on the basketball court,” Sullinger said. “He’s smart, he plays well and he’s a very, very tough defender. That was real shocking to me. I really didn’t watch a lot of college basketball, but you see a lot of highlights on ‘SportsCenter,’ and he was always good, but they never said anything about his defensive ability.”
That’s a ringing endorsement for a player who has yet to even play his first game in the summer league, which begins Saturday in Orlando. Sullinger stopped short, however, of giving Smart too much credit too early when asked to compare his defense to that of free-agent guard Avery Bradley, whom the Celtics reportedly re-signed to a four-year, $32 million contract Wednesday.
“Oh,” Sullinger responded. “I can’t give (Smart) that. He’s got some guys he has to guard first before I can compare him to Avery. Give him about 15 games then you can ask that question again.”