Boston’s Jared Sullinger coming into his own in Second Year

jared-sullinger-boston-celticsJared Sullinger’s professional basketball career got off to a rocky start the minute he was selected 21st overall in the 2012 NBA Draft. After all, this was a guy whom many predicted to be a top-5 lottery pick going into the summer of ’12. And there was good reason why since the bulky 6’9″ power forward led Ohio State to a 63-10 overall record and Final Four appearance during his two years there.

Unfortunately, Sullinger’s stock slipped considerably after he suffered through back issues during the Draft Combine in Chicago. He eventually fell to the Boston Celtics, who grabbed him in the latter half of the first round.

Wanting to prove the critics wrong in his rookie season, Sullinger showed flashes of brilliance, including a January-of-2013 game against the Toronto Raptors where he scored 25 points and grabbed 20 rebounds. This was the first 20-20 game by a Celtic since Kevin Garnett did it in 2007. But then disaster struck just two weeks later on February 1st, when it was announced that Sullinger would miss the rest of the season with a back injury.

This was obviously a huge setback and a harrowing reminder of the Draft Combine the year before. However, all of these reminders seem to have vanished now that Sullinger is showing his true potential in the 2013-14 season. For starters, he’s averaging 13.4 PPG and 8.1 RPG in a modest 27 minutes per contest. These numbers may not leap off the stat sheet at casual observers, but what he’s done over the past four games definitely does. In a stretch from Jan. 29th to Feb. 7th, 2014, Sullinger has averaged 23.8 PPG, 13.8 RPG and 1.25 BPG. What’s more is that the 21-year-old has led the rebuilding Celtics to a 3-1 mark over these past few games.

jared-sullinger-boston-celtics-1Following his fourth game during this impressive streak, where Sullinger scored a career-high 31 points and grabbed 16 boards against the Kings, his teammates were asked to weigh in on this emergence. Gerald Wallace said, “He’s one of the best offensive rebounders I’ve played with. And when is focus is on, he’s pretty good down on the block.”

What impresses Rajon Rondo about his teammate is the consistency. “The hardest thing in this league is to be consistent, and right now he’s been very consistent for us…so it’s not easy what he’s doing,” Rondo said.

Sullinger himself also commented with the following, “I just went out and just played my game. (I’ve) been doing it for the past couple games and just letting everything go, playing my game and just showing better body language, according to my father.”

As mentioned before, Sullinger has played well before. But a four-game stretch with double-doubles is new territory for the power forward. So should we expect a drop-off at some point? Not according to Celtics Insider A. Sherrod Blakely, who said the following:

The way that he’s going about doing it is really what’s impressing me. He’s not just relying on shots around the basket, he’s not just relying on jumpers. He’s mixing it up and that is what you want to see in a young, upcoming promising big like Jared Sulilnger – the ability to hurt teams in different ways.

One more testament to Jared Sullinger’s insane run over the past week-plus is that he’s currently playing with two injured hands. He’s got a dislocated finger on one hand and sprained ligaments in the other. So if he’s playing this well at age 21 with two injured hands, just imagine how good he’ll be for Boston in a few years as long as his back issues don’t return.

Evaluating the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets Trade

kevin-garnett-paul-pierceWe’re now over halfway through the 2013-2014 NBA season and there’s been quite a bit of time to analyze the Boston Celtics/Brooklyn Nets summer trade. As you may recall, Brooklyn practically sold their future by giving up three first round picks, and they dumped some veterans with large contracts. In return, the Nets got three players in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry, whom they thought would put them among the league’s elite.

So who’s the clear winner in this deal? Before we provide a clear-cut answer to this question, let’s take a more in-depth look at what exactly each team has gotten out of the trade thus far.

Boston Celtics

Rather than try and make another run at a low playoff seed with aging superstars, Danny Ainge chose to start from scratch by getting rid of Pierce and Garnett. In doing so, he virtually guaranteed that Boston would be bad and that’s exactly what has happened, with the Celtics sitting at 15-32 and tied with the Philadelphia 76ers for last in the Atlantic Division.

But being bad this year isn’t such a terrible thing. After all, the 2014 NBA Draft is loaded with talent, and if Boston can grab a top-5 pick, it’d be huge. Speaking of the draft, this team will also be getting three extra first-round picks in the future, which is immensely helpful to the rebuilding effort.

The major downside on Boston’s part is that they had to absorb Gerald Wallace’s contract, which will see the overpaid forward get another $30 million. It’s not all bad, though, because they were able to dump Jason Terry’s $10 million contract on Brooklyn.

Brooklyn Nets

paul-pierce-1As we discussed in the beginning, the Nets made this trade in order to compete with the East’s top teams like Indiana and Miami. And they paid a heavy price for getting Piece and Garnett by giving up a lot of draft picks. So far, their reward is a 20-23 record, the current seventh seed, and a couple of solid starters. Not exactly what you give up your draft future for…

Piece is averaging 13.3 PPG on just 41.3% shooting. He’s also averaging 3.1 APG, but turning the ball over 2.4 times per game too. Garnett hasn’t exactly been a godsend either, scoring 6.9 PPG on 42% shooting. However, he has done some good work on the boards, averaging 6.9 RPG. Jason Terry has been a virtual non-factor, scoring 4.4 PPG and only hitting 37.4% of his shots from the field.

If this team was built to win a championship, something needs to change quickly. The Nets have already taken a huge hit with Brook Lopez sidelined for the remainder of the season with a broken foot. And if the playoffs were to start today, they wouldn’t even have first-found home court advantage.

The Trade Winner?

Neither team has escaped with an A+ from this trade. Of course, it’s still pretty early to tell how both teams will make out from the deal in the long-term. Boston is a very bad team right now, and how all of their draft picks pan out won’t be determined until after 2016. New Jersey is currently the seventh seed and could very well move up in the standings.

But if we have to pick a winner now, it’s definitely Boston. They’re set up well for the future with players like Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green, Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger. And they’ll likely add more promising young players over the next few years.

Are the Brooklyn Nets bound to miss the Playoffs?

new-jersey-nets-miss-playoffsThis past offseason, the Brooklyn Nets made some huge free agent acquisitions to vault themselves among the NBA’s elite teams…or so it seemed. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov was pretty clear that he wanted to compete for a championship now, so GM Billy King went out and got Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko.

However, these moves were costly because the Nets gave up several draft picks, leaving them with just one draft selection between now and 2018. In addition to losing the picks, Brooklyn also has the highest payroll in the league at $102.2 million, along with an $87.2 million luxury tax – bringing their total to $187.4 million.

So with a third of the season now finished, what have they gotten for all of these expenditures? A 9-18 record, which is tied for third in the Atlantic Division. Things have been ugly beyond just the record too. Rookie head coach Jason Kidd seems in over his head, and he had a large role in super-assistant Lawrence Frank’s demotion. His locker room speeches are far from inspiring too, as you can see from the following gem that he delivered after the Nets’ blowout loss to the Indiana Pacers:

Well I think it is getting very close to just accepting losing. We are kind of getting comfortable with losing. And we got to make a stand with that because when things get tough, do we just give in and most of the time right now we do.

jason-kidd-new-jersey-coachKidd’s rough coaching introduction and King trading away Brooklyn’s future doesn’t even begin to cover everything that’s wrong here. The team’s early season MVP, Brook Lopez, is now sidelined with a broken foot. This means the team will have to replace 20.7 PPG, 6 RPG and 1.76 BPG. Brooklyn has also sorely missed an injured Andrei Kirilenko, who’s played just 57 minutes this year. His bargain-basement signing this offseason is what truly worried the defending champion Miami Heat. But there’s nothing to fear when Kirilenko can’t stay on the court.

Even those who have been on the court have underachieved. Pierce is scoring just 12.6 PPG and shooting 40.2% from the field. Nobody expected him to play like he did a decade ago. But Pierce is really struggling to fit in with his new team. Garnett is even more disappointing, averaging just 6.7 PPG, 7.2 RPG and shooting a dreadful 37.5% from the field. At 38 years old, you have to wonder if KG is now on a steep decline.

Joe Johnson (16.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG) and Deron Williams (12.5 PPG, 7.6 APG) have both been solid thus far. But these two alone aren’t capable of leading a team to the NBA title. So if they don’t get some help from the supporting cast soon, you have to wonder if this overly expensive team is headed for the draft lottery.

What’s sad is that, even if they do get a lottery pick, the selection will belong to the Atlanta Hawks (via Joe Johnson deal). So it basically looks like it’s postseason or bust for this team. Their best chance currently resides in passing some of their foes in the awful Atlantic Division. Toronto currently leads the Atlantic with an 11-15 record, while Boston holds the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed with a 12-17 record. Boston is 2 games ahead of New Jersey, while Toronto is 2.5 games ahead of them.

Assuming Brooklyn can’t overtake either of these teams and grab a playoff berth, this could mark one of the biggest disasters in NBA history. After all, who wants to pay $189.4 million for a lottery pick that you won’t get to use anyways?

2013 NBA Draft Winners and Losers

anthony-bennett-nba-draft-1At this point, most NBA executives and coaches don’t see the 2013 NBA Draft as one that will produce lots of future All-Stars and Hall-of-Famers. But this certainly doesn’t mean that the 2013 Draft wasn’t exciting because there were some high-profile trades and surprising picks. That said, let’s talk about who made out with these trades and picks along with which teams/players ended up losers after draft night.

Winner #1: Anthony Bennett

Seeing as how this wasn’t a talent-rich draft, the number one pick was up in the air. Even still, few people saw 6’7″ UNLV forward Anthony Bennett going as the top pick. In unbelievable fashion, the Cleveland Cavaliers took Bennett with the first overall selection and see him as their swingman of the future.

The Mountain West Player of the Year was just as shocked as anybody when David Stern called him up to the podium. “I’m just really as surprised as everyone else,” Bennett said. “I didn’t have any idea who was going No. 1 or who was going No. 2. I heard everything was up for grabs. But I’m just real happy, glad I have this opportunity.”

Loser #1: Nerlens Noel

nerlens-noelRail-thin Kentucky center Nerlens Noel was about as close to a clear-cut number one pick as anybody entering last night’s draft. Not only did the Cavs pass on him, but so did four teams after Cleveland. Noel’s freefall ended when the New Orleans Pelicans chose him with the sixth pick, although it wasn’t for them.

The Pelicans traded Noel along with a first round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for point guard Jrue Holiday and second round pick PG Pierre Jackson. The 7-footer probably won’t play until at least November, following surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament that he suffered at Kentucky. And this definitely contributed to his descent on the draft board.

Winner #2: New Orleans

The Pelicans brought in one of the NBA’s most talented point guards to usher in a new era that includes a name change and different look. Holiday averaged 17.7 PPG and 8.0 APG last year on a Philadelphia team that didn’t exactly have many weapons. New Orleans is now hoping he can put up similar or better numbers for them.

The only problem will be deciding what to do with their loaded backcourt, which includes PG Greivis Vasquez and SG Eric Gordon. The latter isn’t happy in the Big Easy right now and could be trade bait this offseason.

Loser #2: Ben McLemore

ben-mclemore-draftMany thought that Kansas guard Ben McLemore was a lock to be selected in the top three. After all, he’s already a great shooter and gifted scorer following one year of college seasoning. However, he ended up going to the Sacramento Kings at pick number 7, which surprised many draft fans.

Scouts saw McLemore as a very good all-around player who can create shots for himself off the dribble. But as the draft drew closer, there were talks of him not being aggressive enough to take over games and justify a top-three pick. Now he’ll spend his rookie campaign on the hapless Kings, who’ve been non-competitive for years.

Winner #3: Boston Celtics

The Celtics’ aging core of coach Doc Rivers, PF Kevin Garnett and SF Paul Pierce clearly wanted out of Boston. Meanwhile, the Celtics, even with a healthy Rajon Rondo, seem like they’re better off rebuilding, rather than taking one or two more hopeless shots at a title.

On draft night, all parties got what they wanted as Pierce and Garnett were shipped off to a better team in New Jersey, while Boston unloaded big salaries and got several draft picks. The Celtics will now have New Jersey’s first round picks in 2014, ’16 and ’18, along with the option to trade picks in ’17. The ’14 pick is key since next year’s draft should be loaded with talent.

Loser #3: Both the Charlotte Bobcats and Phoenix Suns

cody-zeller-draftThe Charlotte Bobcats and Phoenix Suns aren’t playoff teams, which would make one think that they’d be gunning for players with tremendous upside. However, both clubs dropped the ball when they passed on Noel and McLemore at the fourth and fifth picks.

The Bobcats took Indiana center Cody Zeller with the fourth selection. And while Zeller is a mobile 7-footer with good all-around skills, he’s hardly the game-changer that Noel or McLemore could be. The same goes for the Suns and picking Alex Lens at the number five slot. On a team that needs so much, opting for a center who figures to have a solid, but unspectacular career isn’t going to get it done.

Winner #4: Victor Oladipo

Indiana shooting guard Victor Oladipo was projected by many to be a top five pick. However, most of these projections had him at the latter end of this range, and guys like Noel, McLemore and Otto Porter Jr. tabbed in the top three spots. So when Oladipo went number two overall to the Orlando Magic, some analysts were a bit surprised.

However, it’s not so crazy when you consider that he’s extremely athletic, has a great first step, takes high-percentage shots, and above all, plays defense better than any guard in the draft. Sure he’s a little short for a shooting guard (6’4″) and isn’t the greatest passer, but Oladipo should definitely make a big impact in Orlando with his shooting and defense.

Loser #4: Shabazz Muhammad

shabazz-muhammadLast year many people saw Shabazz Muhammad as a potential number one pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. And why not since he’s a 6’6″ shooting guard with a 6’11” wingspan, a good three-point shooter, and a player who’s already got the strength to compete with veterans.

However, none of this was enough to overshadow Muhammad’s subpar defense, character questions and lack of an all-around game. He was still a lottery pick, but just barely as the Utah Jazz picked him at number 14, then traded his rights to the Minnesota Timberwolves.