Rising Stars Rave About Celtics' Sullinger

Zeller, Sullinger

Tyler Zeller, who faced off against Jared Sullinger earlier this season, was one of many Rising Stars who complimented Boston's rookie Friday morning.
David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images

HOUSTON – Jared Sullinger might not be in Houston for tonight’s Rising Stars Challenge, but that doesn’t mean Boston’s rookie isn’t on the minds of his fellow NBA youngsters.

The NBA’s top rookies and sophomores met the media Friday morning as they prepped for their Rising Stars game tonight. Several of them discussed Sullinger, including one bold claim from this top overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.

“If he didn’t get hurt he definitely would have made the team, this game, regardless,” said Anthony Davis. “He had definitely been playing well, bringing the extra boost off the bench for the Celtics. So he definitely would have made the game. Hopefully he recovers very well and gets back on the court soon.”

Sullinger was making his mark on the NBA before he went down with a back injury on Jan. 30 that cost him the remainder of the season. He underwent lumbar disc surgery and is expected to return to the Celtics' lineup at full health next season. Davis, along with second-year big man Tristan Thompson of the Cleveland Cavaliers, both said that they texted Sullinger after the surgery to see how he was doing.

Boston’s top overall pick is recovering well from surgery. He remains on the mend, but his absence doesn't take away from his impressive 45-game stretch with the Celtics this season. Sullinger’s array of skills, most notably his rebounding prowess, landed him in Boston’s starting lineup prior to his injury. He ended his rookie season with averages of 6.0 points per game and 5.9 rebounds per game.

Sullinger’s play was much more impressive than his overall numbers would indicate. He was explosive over his final month of play and that’s what secured him a role in the starting lineup. Sully grabbed at least nine rebounds in six January games, maxing out with 16 boards against the Suns on Jan. 9. In addition to his rebounding, Sullinger also hit nearly half of his shot attempts in January.

Davis, Thompson and several other NBA youngsters took notice of Sullinger’s quick ascent. In fact, every Rising Stars participant who spoke to Celtics.com on Friday raved about the rookie out of Ohio State.

“Jared’s one hell of a player,” said Thompson, a good friend of Sullinger. “He definitely hangs his hat on rebounding. With rebounding, that obviously opens up opportunities to play, and then in terms of offense, he’s a great player. He’s able to make shots, great post moves, great touch around the rim. It’s unfortunate that he has an injury, but I talked to him and his head’s up right now and he’s ready to get back on the court.”

Thompson’s teammate, Tyler Zeller, has also battled with Sullinger in the past. Zeller is impressed by Sullinger’s ability to excel despite his lack of superior athleticism.

“I think he’s very crafty inside as far as how he can finish,” said Zeller. “He’s not, as far as jumping, he’s not the most athletic, but he always finds a way to score.”

No one knows that better than another Cavs player, Dion Waiters. Waiters and his Syracuse teammates watched Sullinger drop a game-high 19 points on them during the Elite 8 last year, which propelled Ohio State to the Final Four and ended the Orange’s season. Waiters called Sullinger “a winner” and said that he believes Sully’s skill set will succeed in the world’s greatest basketball league.

“I think it’s going to translate well because he can rebound, he plays his butt off, he can hit the mid-range, he can go down into the post,” Waiters said. “All he’s got to do is continue to keep bringing it and continue to stay humble and everything will take care of itself.”

Everything had been taking care of itself prior to Sullinger's back injury. Now he is rehabbing rather than suiting up for tonight’s Rising Stars Challenge, but at least we know his impressive abilities are still on the minds of his outstanding peers.