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Celtics rookie forward Jared Sullinger handles the ball during preseason play.BOSTON -- Celtics coach Doc Rivers might have anointed Jeff Green the biggest standout of Boston's preseason, but not far behind was rookie Jared Sullinger, who turned more than a few heads with his steady play, consistent rebounding and overall court presence that seemed well beyond his years.
Boston felt it had a steal when it drafted Sullinger with the 21st overall pick in the 2012 draft after he fell due to concerns over his back (there hasn't been an instance of back-related trouble for Sullinger), and so far, the Ohio State product has the C's feeling good about their investment.
Sullinger averaged 10.9 points and 7.0 rebounds in 26.1 minutes over the eight-game exhibition schedule, jumping in and out of the starting lineup for its entirety. He shot an impressive 56.1 percent from the field and proved to be a reliable free throw shooter, knocking down 84.6 percent of his looks from the stripe.
And though the stats are lofty, more notable were his comfort level on the court and his ability to pick up the Celtics' system faster than some of Boston's other new additions who have been in the league for multiple years. He played alongside the likes of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, rarely missing a beat as they worked together, executing looks on offense and securing stops on defense.
Though he's been studying the game his entire life, Sullinger said he was surprised he found consistent minutes so quickly.
"I mean, we've got a lot of guys that have been in the league for a long time. A couple dinosaurs, but I'm not going to point them out," Sullinger joked. "But, yeah, I'm surprised. I'm very surprised. But that comes with hard work and dedication to the game and just never cheating yourself."
In some instances, the little things stood out with Sullinger -- the quick outlet passes, going right up for a layup without hesitating after receiving a pass and finding the correct positioning around the basket in accordance with where his teammates were lined up. It all adds up to a rookie who doesn't play like a rookie, and he's managed to make an impact both on the floor and in the locker room.
"He's still got a lot of work, but he does a lot of good things," Rivers said of Sullinger. "He has a veteran mind, does not play like a young guy, except for he makes rookie fouls, he does things, and that's why he had the foul trouble. But he's just a good spirit and it's good to have him in the locker room."
Sullinger has caught the attention of the Celtics' elder statesmen -- or dinosaurs, as he playfully refers to them. Though Garnett has a strong history of embracing his team's young players, he seems to have a true appreciation for what Sullinger has been doing.
"His IQ of basketball is very high, very good hands and his work ethic. I always say, young guys come off, sometimes, entitled. He’s very gullible. I mean that in a good way," Garnett said last week. "Young guys, you want to see that. He works very hard. He’s very attentive. He wants to be better. I feel like sometimes young guys come in and have the whole entitlement across their chest. This kid is coming in and working his [butt] off and trying to be better. I’m giving him the book, teaching him everything I know."
As far as Sullinger is concerned, listening to and learning from his veteran teammates is a common sense move.
"When you see guys that have been in the league for 10 years, for, some cases 17 to 18 years, 15 years, if you listen to them, I mean, you should be fine. They've seen it all," he said. "Different generations of basketball for some people. I'm not going to say no names, but you've seen it all, so when you listen to them, they're only trying to help you. There's nothing negative about it. Everything is positive. They're trying to help you."
Sullinger should prove to be a factor for the Celtics this year, as either a starter, a bench commodity or a hybrid of the two. His talent for offensive rebounding -- something Boston doesn't have a wealth of -- can't be ignored, and as long as he maintains that steady and mature level of play, he easily could emerge as a consistent bright spot for Boston this season.