BOSTON (CBS) – Jared Sullinger had himself quite the fourth quarter Wednesday night.
He breathed some life into an ineffective Celtics’ offense by scoring 17 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, helping the hosts close a 13-point deficit to three points in the closing seconds. Despite the major scare, the Grizzlies managed to escape with the win with some clutch free throw shooting down the stretch.
Sullinger did his usual offensive work on the block down the stretch, corralling a number of second chance opportunities and hitting a couple push shots in the paint. He also buried a pair of three-pointers though, which brought about an interesting point from Coach Stevens after the game pertaining to his young power forward.
“I don’t think he shoots enough of them (3-pointers),” Stevens said, “And I’ve said that all year. You know, he passed up a couple, he passed up the one where he traveled at the top of the key; he was wide open. And the more games he gets under his belt, the more he plays, that shot’s going to go in more often than not. From a percentage standpoint he’s a really good shooter, just him and the rim. And he had that opportunity. We were running things for him at the end of that game, to see if we couldn’t get him a look.”
Those are not exactly the comments you would suspect out of a coach in regards to a player who is shooting just 26.5 percent from downtown on the season, but Stevens elaborated on his stance.
“Well here’s the biggest thing is the first question you ask when you’ve got a guy who can make threes is, ‘Can you switch him?’ And you can’t switch him. There’s no plausible way to do that because he’s so good in the post. A lot of three-point shooters aren’t very good post players. So if he can continue to develop that part of his game, that could really help us,” Stevens said.
Sullinger isn’t the only one that Stevens want to see shooting more from deep.
“It’s the same thing – I want Vitor (Faverani) to feel comfortable shooting it as well, Kelly (Olynyk) when he gets back to feel comfortable shooting it as well, and that’s another element. And even Hump (Kris Humphries). Hump doesn’t shoot it quite to the three-point line on top, but he can shoot it to 18, 17, 18 feet like (Brandon) Bass and they’re pretty good from that range.”
The good news about Sullinger is that he is continuing to show consistent strides in his play as Stevens grants him more playing time. Since being inserted into the starting five, Sullinger is averaging 15.2 points and 10 rebounds per contest in 31.6 minutes per game. That increased production is translating into more confidence for the second-year player, who hears his coach’s feedback on his shot.
“[Stevens] constantly tells me to take the open shot, and he’s always in my ear about shooting the ball. Sometimes I feel comfortable shooting, sometimes I don’t. I think it’s just the mindset, I gotta understand if they are going to give me that shot, I’m going to take it,” Sullinger said.
That comfort level from deep has slowly improved for Sullinger, who started the season shooting just 20 percent from 3-point range (2-of-10) over his first seven games.
That percentage has slowly risen over the past eight games for Sullinger, who hit 29.1 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc in those contests (7-of-24), increasing both his accuracy and the number of 3-point attempts he took per game, during that stretch.
Make no mistake, Sullinger still has a long way to go to become a proficient 3-point shooter, but it’s hard to ignore the progress he’s made early in this season. During a year that’s just as much about the team’s future as it is about the present, the improvements Sullinger is making now could prove to pay major dividends for the Celtics down the road.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.
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