- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Which of these Celtics rookies will have the biggest impact in 2013?The joke, in recent seasons, has been that the biggest task for a Boston rookie is remembering to get both the strawberry and grape varieties of jelly for the pregame PB&J sandwiches on the road. After all, that was some of the heaviest lifting endured by some first-year players.
For three weeks in August we'll break up the summer doldrums by trying to predict exactly how the 2012-13 season will play out for the Boston Celtics.
But getting over the rookie hurdle hasn't been impossible in Boston. Sure, you can make that case that neither Semih Erden or Greg Stiemsma were pure rookies -- both had overseas experience before putting on a Celtics jersey -- but each was able to carve out a role in recent seasons. Alas, we tend to focus more on guys like JaJuan Johnson, E'Twaun Moore, and Lester Hudson, who struggle to land rotation spots at the pro level (heck, even Avery Bradley barely touched the floor in his first season).
Even as the Celtics prepare to field what -- on paper, at least -- has potential to be one of their deepest team in recent seasons, there's a belief among team observers that Boston can still generate a first-year impact from a rookie class of Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo, and Kris Joseph. Sullinger in particular, who slid down draft boards based on concerns about his back, showed at summer league that he might be able to step right into the frontcourt rotation. The future for the Syracuse tandem of Melo and Joseph is a bit more murky, but each player showed potential during summer ball, it's simply a matter of how fast they can prove themselves ready at the next level.
It will surprise few to see Sullinger dominating today's Summer Forecast question, which asked our panel of summer prognosticators to predict the rookie that will have the greatest impact during the 2012-13 season. I can't help but concur with the masses -- if healthy, Sullinger is clearly the favorite to carve out a consistent rotation role this season.
Sullinger is the lottery-caliber pick which other teams avoided because of concerns about bulging discs in his back (certainly a red flag for any big man). Yet, those back woes didn't appear to hinder Sullinger at summer league, where he showed potential to be an excellent rebounder, a solid passer, and someone who doesn't let his lack of pure size detour him from mixing it up under the basket.
Given that Boston lacks pure size overall, Sullinger will likely get every opportunity to carve out a role off the bench, helping at both the power forward and center positions. His rebounding abilities alone are intriguing enough for Doc Rivers to put him on the floor.
Melo is insanely raw, but his defense-first mentality could afford him Erden-like opportunities. Joseph adds some depth on the wing and could see time if injuries deplete Boston's limited depth at the small forward position. Both face an uphill battle to simply avoid being the guys that fetch the ingredients for the pregame snack.
Read on for our panel's predictions:
Greg Payne, ESPN Boston (Jared Sullinger)
We all know Doc Rivers doesn't have a strong history of playing the young guys, but if any of them are going to make waves this season, it'll be Jared Sullinger. I doubt he'll have overwhelming numbers, but his ability to rebound the ball, particularly on the offensive end, cannot be overstated. The Celtics have been a somewhat horrendous rebounding team in recent seasons, and while Sullinger won't cure that all by himself, he certainly has the ability to improve the situation. Additionally, if the frequency with which he got to the free throw line during summer league translates over at all into regular-season play, he'll be an asset to the Celtics on offense. He might be undersized for his position, but his game is multifaceted enough for him to still produce points while going up against taller defenders. Combine all of that with his mid-range shooting and passing abilities, and it's not hard to imagine him being the lone rookie to break into the rotation.
Brian Robb, CelticsHub (Jared Sullinger)
Sullinger, the former All-American, has to be considered the heavy favorite in this category. The C’s frontcourt rotation is structured so he will have the opportunity to compete for minutes right away. Considering that the undersized power forward can do many of the things other members of the C’s second-unit frontcourt can’t (rebound, deep shooting range), I think the Ohio State product will see plenty of minutes almost right out of the gate next season. The one thing that may hold Sullinger back is his defense. As we all know, Doc Rivers won’t let rookies see playing time unless they are competent on the defensive end. The 21-year-old held his own in summer league, so I expect it won’t hold him back too much during his rookie campaign.
Jay King, CelticsTown (Jared Sullinger)
Fab Melo's more raw than a 13-year old's knee after a biking accident. Kris Joseph is a second-round pick playing behind Paul Pierce and Jeff Green (assuming the latter finalizes his imminent deal). Jared Sullinger is the second two-time First Team AP All-American the Celtics have ever drafted, putting him in the halfway decent company of Larry Bird. If I had any money whatsoever in my bank account, I would bet it all on Sullinger becoming Boston's most productive rookie. The 6-foot-9 power forward possesses a calm intelligence with the basketball, hands like baseball mitts and a jump shot which didn't look great during the summer but allowed him to shoot 40 percent last season at Ohio State while attempting more than one 3-pointer per game. Sullinger should become a rare rookie to crack Doc Rivers' rotation, partly because he's Boston's only backup power forward, but also because he's polished and heady. Sullinger doesn't arrive in Boston without flaws, though. He wears an extra layer of human flesh; couldn't jump out of a toddler's sandbox; and struggled to score against length during summer league, shooting just 30.2 percent during five games in Las Vegas. The bad news is that his athletic limitations are real. The good news is that he's smart enough to make adjustments and has already hired a personal chef to improve his conditioning. Melo could be forced into frontcourt minutes if the Celtics suffer through another injury-plagued season and Joseph impressed during summer league. But, barring injury or unforeseen circumstances, Sullinger should be Boston's most helpful rookie.
Your turn: Which rookie will have the biggest impact? Sound off with your thoughts in the comments.
4dMatt Walks, ESPN.com
5dESPN Stats and Information Group