Rookie Sullinger starts strong

October, 7, 2012
10/07/12
3:15
PM ET
Before the start of training camp, Celtics coach Doc Rivers was recounting all the moves his team made this summer to restock their roster when he got to first-round draft pick Jared Sullinger.

"The middle of last college season, I don’t even think we would have looked at film on Sullinger because we would have thought we had no chance to get him," Rivers said. "Then [Celtics president of basketball operations] Danny [Ainge] released the health report on him, and he fell to us. So that was terrific."

[+] EnlargeJared Sullinger
AP Photo/Luca BrunoJared Sullinger didn't seem to be intimidated playing in the Celtics' star-studded starting lineup.
Rivers chuckled before adding, "That’s not true, everyone, I’m just joking. Or maybe it is, who knows? It’s been that type of summer, it’s been good."

Once a player with lottery potential, Sullinger slipped all the way to Boston at No. 21 because of concerns about bulging discs in his back that left him red-flagged before June's draft. A solid two-week showing at summer league suggested Boston had a steal on its hands and two preseason games overseas have only solidified that notion.

Coming off a 16-point, 8-rebound effort in Friday's loss in Turkey, Sullinger was elevated to the starting lineup Sunday and chipped in nine points and seven rebounds over 18 minutes during Boston's 105-75 triumph over Emporio Armani in Milan.

Sullinger has looked nothing like a fresh-faced late-round pick during this European trip, blending well with any lineup. Some first-year players would be overwhelmed playing alongside Boston's Big Three and a veteran such as Jason Terry as part of Sunday's starting unit, but Sullinger simply did the little things -- finishing around the basket and cleaning up the glass -- and he's well on his way to establishing himself as a rotation player in his first NBA season.

There's room for growth in his game and it's clear the Celtics like the idea of pairing him with the likes of Kevin Garnett as he improves his defense. It does make you wonder if, down the road, Sullinger could make a strong case for more time with the starting unit.

Rivers cautioned against reading too much into Sunday's lineup change. Brandon Bass, the incumbent starting power forward, knocked down all five shots he took and quietly put up 11 points and eight rebounds over 24:36 off the bench.

Of course, that may only fuel the notion that Bass could have a bigger impact off the pine. Remember that Boston brought Bass here last offseason as a reserve contributor. He spent much of the first half of the season in a sixth-man role before ascending to the starting lineup and aiding Boston's second-half turnaround after Garnett shuffled to center.

The bottom line for Celtics fans: These are phenomenal problems to have. Or maybe options is the better word, as Sullinger's ability to immediately play at this level -- while providing a key element in offensive rebounding, something Boston has sorely lacked -- will only give the Celtics more versatility and depth with which to operate.

We still haven't seen Sullinger against honest-to-goodness NBA talent, but Boston has to be encouraged by what it's seen so far. On a European vacation with plenty of positives, Sullinger's ability to make an immediate impact is at the top of the list.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Jeff Green
PTS AST STL MIN
16.8 1.7 0.7 34.2
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Sullinger 8.1
AssistsR. Rondo 9.8
StealsR. Rondo 1.3
BlocksK. Humphries 0.9