Sullinger: 'I'm a different player' post surgery

Sullinger: 'I'm a different player' post surgery
December 23, 2013, 2:00 pm
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Jared Sullinger grabs a rebound against the Milwaukee Bucks.

(USA Today Sports Images)

BOSTON — The holiday season has a way of making all thankful for the little things in life like family, friends and good health.

That's why despite the Celtics' 12-17 record, you won't find Jared Sullinger in a "bah, humbug!" kind of mood.

In fact, just the opposite.

He's excited not about where the Celtics are, but where they have the potential to go in the very near future.

"We're building something special here," he told CSNNE.com. "We're not there yet, but we're getting there; we're getting there."

For them to achieve the kind of down-the-road success Sullinger envisions, he knows he'll have to do his part. And now that he's about 10 months removed from back surgery, Sullinger's mind and body are strong enough to carry this team in ways that few would have expected from a late first-round pick who is now in just his second season.

This season, Sullinger is averaging 14.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. As a starter, he's even better (15.5 points, 7.9 rebounds per game).

But more than the points, Sullinger provides a presence that no other Celtic this season has been able to deliver at such a high level. And the praise for his game extends beyond just the guys that he plays with.

"He could be the Kevin Love of the East," Indiana center Roy Hibbert told Comcast SportsNet following the Pacers' 106-79 win over Boston on Sunday. "It's his second year. He got a back problem last year so it's gonna be a long process, but he could be a pretty good player in this league."

Sullinger has acknowledged that he has in some ways mirrored his game after Love who is averaging 25.9 points, 13.9 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game this season.

But he'll be the first to tell you that he has a long way to go before those comparisons will be linked based on his play rather than his potential.

Rather than be the next Love, Sullinger is more focused on being himself ... only better.

While Sullinger appreciates the positive comments, he's not taking anything for granted. That's what happens when you are a player widely viewed as a top-10 talent, but fall to the Celtics at No. 21 on draft night because of health concerns.

While many were surprised to see him slide so far down in the first round, Sullinger knew the chatter leading up to the draft about his back was going to result in him going late in the first round.

"I wasn't going to worry about it," he said.

But he has used it as added incentive.

"I keep it right here," he says, pointing to his left shoulder.

Indeed, Sullinger seems to play with an added purpose most nights, showcasing an inside-the-paint game that's surprisingly effective despite giving up several inches to most of the players he's matched up against.

He balances it out with a three-point shot that he seems to be getting more and more comfortable.

"There are going to be times when I'll have an open shot; gotta take those," Sullinger said. "There are times where I might have an open shot, but I can get them off their feet and drive past them. I have to find that happy medium of when to attack and when to let the ball fly. That's all."

His success speaks to having a high basketball I.Q., something both his current and former coaches have praised him for displaying consistently.

"It's just basketball," he says. "That's all I'm doing, just playing basketball, recognizing what defenses are going to give me and taking advantage of it."

And now he has the physical tools, courtesy of his lower back surgery, to make the most of those opportunities.

"Because of the back, my leg last year, you saw me, my walk was always funny; I had a hitch in my walk," Sullinger recalled. "Now I'm not dragging that right leg. I can explode off the right leg a little more. That back surgery has really helped me out with this year."

And that he says, is something he is thankful for.

That and of course, family.

"I'm mostly thankful that my grandmothers made it to another year," Sullinger said. "Cheryl Adams (mother's side) and Sara Smith (father's side). It's always good to make it through another holiday, see the same faces the next following holiday. Hopefully many more to come."

And as for his health -- his back specifically -- yes, that's near the top of his list of things to be thankful for this year.

"I'm a different player because my back is so much better," Sullinger said. "Knowing there's a scouting report on you ... I have to add more to my game. I can do that now a lot easier than before."