Sully the PG? Big Man Shows off Passing Skills

Marc D'Amico
Team Reporter and Analyst

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BOSTON – When Jared Sullinger told the world on media day that he would get his “big butt on the block” this season, we all thought he’d do so to score.

Turns out, his low post game benefits the Celtics in more ways than one.

Sullinger has showcased high-level passing skills during the preseason while operating on the block. Most recently, he dished out three assists during just 13-plus minutes of action as Boston downed Brooklyn 111-105 Monday night.

“He’s a really good passer,” Brad Stevens said after the game of Sullinger’s dishes. “He sees the floor. He’s really smart. He knows how to play.”

The 23-year-old big man has been refining those skills since he was a young boy, playing under the tutelage of his father and coach, Satch Sullinger. The elder Sullinger taught his son how to read and react like a guard.

“My dad played me at point guard in high school a couple of times,” the power forward said Monday night. “My passing ability is there.”

And we all saw it against Brooklyn.

Sullinger’s first assist came off of a dribble hand-off, which no one would quantify as an advanced play. His final two dishes, however, came off of beautiful – and difficult – reads from the post.

First, with 2:27 left in the first quarter, Sullinger found Avery Bradley on the left wing for an open 3-pointer. The play was quite impressive to watch from start to finish.

Brad Stevens saw a matchup that he liked, with Chris Daniels defending Sullinger down low, and demanded that the ball be passed to Sullinger on the right block. The fourth-year power forward caught the entry pass from Avery Bradley, let the guard cut through to the other side of the court, and then went to work.

Dahntay Jones immediately swarmed down from the top of the key to double-team Sullinger, but it yielded no results for Brooklyn. Sully spun away from the double and toward the baseline, and then back over his right shoulder and toward the paint.

As he finished that second spin, Sullinger split his two defenders and immediately located Bradley behind the 3-point arc on the opposite wing. Sullinger quickly hit his open teammate with a pinpoint pass, and Bradley canned the trey.

Making quality reads and passes from the post is challenging, and doing so becomes even more difficult while facing a double-team. Sullinger, however, is not fazed by a defense’s blitz.

“I’ve been going against a double-team all my life. I’m used to it,” he said. “I just know where to go, and I know the reads, and I trust my teammates to be in their spots.”

That’s exactly what happened, as Sullinger described, during the play with Bradley.

“I felt the double and I was looking for the next open person,” he said. “It happened to be Avery [on the wing]. So it was just me trying to have some hang time – which I don’t – and try to find the open player.”

His next pass was just as impressive, and maybe even quicker.

Sullinger, again operating against Daniels from the right block, took an entry pass from Marcus Smart. Smart cleared through as Bradley had before and Sullinger faced up from about 17 feet out.

Less than a second after he faced up, Kelly Olynyk flashed toward the basket from the opposite wing, beating every Brooklyn defender to the sweet spot of the defense. Sullinger whipped a two-handed pass over his Daniels’ head and into Olynyk’s hands for an easy layup. The play drew a strong ovation from the Celtics bench.

Three assists in less than three minutes of action. Sullinger looked like a point forward on the court.

The box score logged each of Sullinger’s dishes as only one assist, but they count as so much more than that. They stand as proof that he is much more than a scorer in the post. He can also read and react to a defense and feed his teammates for quality looks, just like those smaller guys are known to do on the perimeter.