- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Despite falling to Boston on draft night, big things are expected of rookie Jared Sullinger.Each weekday for a three-week span, ESPN Boston colleague Greg Payne and I are playing a game of over/under while trying to predict the potential production for a Celtics player during the 2012-13 campaign. Today's target: rookie first-round pick Jared Sullinger.
Minutes per game: 15.5
* Forsberg: Over. Sullinger showed enough this summer to believe that Doc Rivers will have confidence to throw him into the fire (particularly since Boston's frontcourt isn't overflowing with depth). Sullinger's rebounding talents alone will allow him to make an immediate impact at the NBA level. It's on him to show that he can meet the team's defensive standards while carving out a role to keep him on the floor in larger doses as the season goes on.
* Payne: Over. Assuming Chris Wilcox serves as the top backup center and Jeff Green plays primarily (but not exclusively) at the small forward spot, Jared Sullinger is Doc Rivers' best option behind Brandon Bass at the power forward position. It'll likely be a give-and-take scenario for Rivers, as the things Sullinger does well (rebounding, getting to the free throw line) will have to outweigh the headaches any rookie will cause a coach. Sullinger seems to have a strong basketball IQ, but he'll likely have his share of stumbles when it comes to mastering the schemes on both sides of the ball. He'll need to overshadow the speed bumps with production in the aforementioned areas to see the court consistently.
Field goal percentage: 50
* Forsberg: Under. Sullinger shot 53 percent in two season at Ohio State and, while he might see less double teams in the NBA, the points won't come as easy. Being an undersized power forward, Sullinger will struggle at times to finish around the rim (think Glen Davis). He will get to the charity stripe often, but that's not going to help this stat category. Sullinger is not afraid to fire away from outside, so the guess here is that his percentage will initially dip at the pro level, but will rise as he gets more comfortable.
* Payne: Under. Sullinger's undersized and doesn't have a ton of lift, which could spell trouble going up against taller defenders in the post. Many of his shots will be contested, which will make it more difficult to finish around the rim, and, even though he's a solid jump shooter, he shouldn't rely solely on his mid-range game to score points. Better numbers here will come with more experience against NBA defenders, but it could easily be a season of growing pains for Sullinger in this regard.
Rebounds per game: 5.5
* Forsberg: Under. Let's use Chris Wilcox as our guide. Last season, Wilcox averaged 4.4 rebounds per game over 17.2 minutes. His total rebound percentage (14.9) is probably on part with what we can expect from Sullinger at the NBA level (he was at 18.2 percent last season at Ohio State). It's going to take a lot of floor time for him to average 5 per game. But it's not an unreasonable bench mark for him to be averaging by the end of the season if he plays to his potential.
* Payne: Over. It's difficult for first-year players to make an impact on championship-contending teams, but this is the one area where Sullinger can really come through for Boston, and he knows it. After summer league in Las Vegas, he openly acknowledged that rebounding is what will earn him minutes, so expect Sullinger to pound the glass whenever he's on the floor. If he really dedicates himself to this part of the game, the numbers should stack up accordingly.
Rookie of the Year voting total: 50
* Forsberg: Over. For reference, hop HERE to see last year's voting distribution. Fifty points would have put Sullinger in the top 4 of last year's voting. Will Sullinger, the 20th pick in June's draft, be able to leapfrog as many as 15 of the players chosen in front of him? He proved to be one of the more noteworthy rookies this offseason and, coupled with Boston's success, suggests to us that he has an excellent chance to do just that.
* Payne: Under. This isn't a knock on Sullinger. There are just too many other quality rookies who will earn more playing time on bad teams and have more chances to pad their stats. Sullinger will likely see some ROY love, because it's truly something for a first-year player to crack the rotation of one of the league's top teams (especially one run by Rivers). A more realistic goal for Sullinger might be consideration for the rookie-sophomore game during All-Star Weekend. It's not an award, but it at least would give him a platform to show people why he's one of the top rookies in the game.
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