Sullinger Has Come a Long Way from Long Range

WALTHAM, Mass. – Jared Sullinger has come a long way from long range.

How far, you might ask? This should say it all: As recently as four weeks ago, opposing coaches didn’t even view Sullinger as a 3-point threat. Heck, they barely acknowledged that he even attempted 3-pointers.

As Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek said ahead of a Nov. 17 matchup with the C’s at TD Garden, “He’ll step out and take the occasional 3.”

Occasional? At that time, Sullinger had averaged 2.5 3-point attempts per game, which accounted for nearly 20 percent of his field goal attempts.

That isn’t occasional. That’s consistent. However, due to Sullinger’s poor 3-point conversion rate of just 15.0 percent at the time, Phoenix’s head coach didn’t associate Sullinger with 3-point shooting. Hornacek viewed the power forward as a threat from inside the arc, not outside of it.

Coincidentally, Sullinger has become a threat – and a dangerous one at that – from downtown ever since. He continues to fire up shots from long range and he is making them at an elite rate.

Sullinger has made 46.2 percent of his 3-pointers over his last 13 games, dating back to Nov. 14. That number ranks 16th in the entire NBA among players who have attempted at least 20 3s since that date.

The list of sharpshooters who have been unable to keep up with Sullinger during that time frame is staggering. The likes of Danny Green (45.3 percent), J.J. Redick (45.1 percent), Courtney Lee (43.8 percent), Stephen Curry (42.9 percent), Klay Thompson (41.0 percent), Paul Pierce (39.2 percent), James Harden (35.6 percent) and many, many more are staring up at Sullinger on that list.

Don’t think for one second that this comes as a result of a small sample size, either. Sullinger’s 52 3-point attempts since Nov. 14 ranks in the top 30 among all NBA players.

The real reason for this drastic improvement, as Sullinger attests, is his work ethic. He’s been putting in the time and effort to get to where he is today.

“Just constantly shooting, whether it’s in the gym with coaches or by myself late at night,” Sullinger claims as the key to his turnaround. “Just shooting. Just getting a lot of shots up.”

It also doesn’t hurt that Sullinger’s teammates have been calling on him to continue to take those shots during games. The third-year player remembered one particular story when he was asked about how he battled through his early-season struggles.

“I think it was one game where I caught the ball at the top of the key and I was like semi-open and I passed it up,” Sullinger remembered, “and Rondo came up to me and was like, ‘Sully, shoot the ball!’”

Those moment drove an important message home for Sullinger.

“They have a lot of confidence in me,” he said of his teammates. “They want me to take that shot, and I’m going to continue to take that shot.”

As he should, and from three particular areas of the court.

The NBA logs 3-point attempts into two categories: corner 3s and above-the-break 3s. There are two corner-3 locations (one on each side of the court) and three above-the-break locations (the top of the key and the two wings). Sullinger feels his sweet spot falls in the latter areas.

“I think mine is just anywhere above the break, that’s easiest for me,” he said. “I’m not really a corner 3 guy.”

The numbers tend to agree. Forty-nine of Sullinger’s 52 3-point attempts since Nov. 14 have been from above the break. He has shot 46.9 percent on those attempts, including sizzling percentages of 53.8 percent (7-of-13) from the top of the key and 55.6 percent (10-of-18) from the right wing. Both of those percentages are far above the league average.

What a difference a month makes. Four weeks ago, Sullinger was a liability to Boston’s offense when he fired from long distance. Now it’s a liability for defenses to leave him unguarded behind the arc.

Suffice to say that opposing coaches are beginning to understand that Sullinger does more than take the occasional trey. He takes them with regularity.

And he makes them, too.

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