|Posted by paul on August 9, 2012 at 9:20 AM|
The Boston Celtics have been blessed with great Bigs over the years. Easy Ed Mccauley. Bill Russell. Tom Heinsohn. Dave Cowens. Paul Silas. Kevin Mchale. Robert Parish. Dino Radja. Antoine Walker. Kevin Garnett. It's possible that Danny Ainge has added another to the list this summer; Jarred Sullinger.
The basketball floor around Sullinger is littered with red flags. He is short for a big man, and he has difficulty getting his shot off under pressure. He has some sort of back problem. His second season in college was not a stellar improvement over his first, statistically. Twenty teams decided not to spend a first round draft pick on Sullinger before the Cs nabbed him. Fans could be forgiven for comparing Sullinger to Big Baby Davis, who seems to have spent a career raising expectations, only to disappoint them. Most obviously, like Davis, Sullinger seems chronically overweight.
But Sullinger has something that hits some Celtics fans like an electric shock; he LOVES the low post. We haven't seen an attitude like that in the NBA in a long time. This kid can do a lot of stuff, but what he seems to love doing is attacking the post, and he seems willing to go after it again and again and again. The value of this can't be overestimated easily. A team can build a lot of offense around a strong post player, and what is more important than sheer physical ability in the post is a relentless attitude. A big who relentlessly attacks the post will win more and more of those battles.
Sullinger also has a keen nose for rebounds. That's another thing we haven't seen in a long time. Don't misunderstand me; Kevin Garnett is an alltime great Big. He even led the league twice in rebounding. If he wins another championship, he will rank as the third all-time great Celtic, in my view, ahead of Dave Cowens, and ahead of Paul Pierce. But the heart of KG's game is not in the post. He loves shooting Js and he loves orchestrating team defense. KG's game is in the area between the low post and the high elbow. Setting picks. Defending pick and rolls. Shooting jumpers, cutting to the hoop, or finding open guys with slick passes. KG can play in the post, but he doesn't love it. He's a great rebounder, but it's not like he feels every rebound has his name written on it. KG is a great all around player, and post play is part of that. He may be the best center in the game today, but he doesn't love it.
I continue to think that the Celtics need to bring in someone to work with Sullinger, at least informally, to work with Sullinger. I think Cowens might be ideal. Cowens has been ineffective as a coach at times, but he's also been successful at times (notably with Charlotte). I think a lot of the teacher's success depends on the pupil. Physically, Sullinger reminds me more of Wes Unseld tha Cowens, but his ATTITUDE reminds me a lot of Cowens. Like Sullinger, Cowens was undersized for a center, but his big man attitude was matched only by Moses Malone and Shaqille O'neal. These were guys who were going to own the post. They might not beat their opponent every time, but they were going after him every time. Malone and Cowens particularly also had that attitude about rebounds. In their minds, they owned every rebound. One gets the impression that guys like Cowens, Malone and now Sullinger go out there every night expecting to grab every rebound. They don't particularly like it when someone not on their team grabs 'their' rebound. And just like an old school center, Sully starts looking for his outlet before he even grabs the rebound. He and Rondo should connect like they were always meant to do this.
Because of Cowens' size, he played a more versatile game than a Shaq. A lot of his inside moves depended on skill and agility, and he loved to draw opposing big men out of the paint with his outside game. Cowens was a good shooter, though nothing comparable to KG, and he could distribute the ball from the high post area, and he was very smart about knowing what to do when. Sullinger seems to potentially have those skills, and those smarts too. I would love to see the Cs bring Cowens in on a regular basis to work with Sullinger. Without a doubt, KG will spend a lot of time in his ear, but Sully also needs exposure to the kind of attitude that only a true center has.
I think Cowens is the most underrated Big Man in the history of the game. It's amazing when you think about it. He won an MVP award, for God's sake! He led arguably the most accomplished team of the seventies to two championships, and one season when they had possibly the all time best W-L record that didn't win a championship. He was possibly the best rebounder of his era, and he excelled at all aspects of the game. One season he led his team in all major statistical categories, something few if any other players have ever done. Most importantly, Cowens was fanatically dedicated to giving the game of basketball everything he had. Silas said it best, pointing out that here was a guy with tremendous talent who played harder than the guys who knew they could only find a niche on the court if they played like madmen.
Let Cowens spend some time with Sullinger. Decades may separate them, along with cultural chasms, but I suspect these two guys would recognize kindred spirits in each other.