AP Photo/Luca Bruno
Celtics rookie Jared Sullinger battles for a rebound.BOSTON -- On a night when Kevin Garnett pulled down zero rebounds for the first time since 1997 -- something he later disputed with considerable passion -- Jared Sullinger's nine rebounds (tied with Rajon Rondo for the team-high) in the Celtics' 92-79 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday stood out a bit more than they normally might have.
It was yet another reminder that Sullinger has not only emerged, but remained, as one of Boston's most consistent rebounding presences this season. Though he's had to deal with some of the typical rookie hurdles -- foul trouble being the most prevalent -- Sullinger has followed through on his preseason claim that rebounding would be his primary focus.
"I mean, he rebounds. I don’t know what he has in his hands but it’s amazing when the ball touches his hands, for the most part it sticks," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "Maybe he has Stickum, I don’t know. No, he’s just a terrific rebounder. He’s learning still that there’s a different pace that you have to play in this league compared to Ohio State, and we’re on him about it and he’s improving. He’s a smart, smart kid on the floor."
Sullinger has explained numerous times this season that he prides himself on doing his work early when it comes to rebounding. Rather than waiting for a shot to hit the rim and relying on elite athleticism to try and sky up and secure it, he does what many NBA players don't: He seeks out a man, plants his admittedly sizable hindquarters into their midsection and moves them out of the way, clearing the necessary space to secure the missed shot.
Sullinger's rebounding statistics have improved in accordance with his consistency. A week ago, his defensive rebounding rate stood at a very respectable 19.4 percent. As of Monday, that figure has risen to 21.4 percent, still good for second on the team behind only Kevin Garnett, though the gaps in their numbers (Garnett's current defensive rebounding rate stands at 25.4), has shrunk as of late.
On top of that, Sullinger boasts the best offensive rebounding rate of any Celtics player to play at least five games this season at 11.1 percent (Garnett's offensive rebounding rate is 4.2, by comparison). Though Rivers continues to downplay the importance of offensive rebounding, if Sullinger can do it in accordance with the team's defensive philosophy, he'll continue to be a credible weapon for them in that regard.
"I'm learning. I tell Doc every day I'm learning," said Sullinger. "I'm a rookie, sometimes you've got to be patient. But, he expects so much out of me, so I've just got to understand that."
With a solid 20-game sample under his belt, it's clear the Celtics are expecting the same attention to rebounding from Sullinger for the remainder of the season. His rookie status won't be ignored completely, but now that he's proven he can contribute consistently at this level, he'll be shouldered with more responsibility than most first-year players are. That's fine by Sullinger, who said Saturday that he isn't even close to being the player he wants to be.
"Nowhere near close. Nowhere near close," he said. "I'm still learning. The season's still young. As a team we're still learning, so we'll see what happens."