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Robb: Jared Sullinger’s Steady Growth Shows He’s More Valuable As Building Block Than As A Trade Chip

By Brian Robb, CBS Boston
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Jared Sullinger (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

Jared Sullinger (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics trade rumors have, understandably, been coming in fast and furiously over the past few days. The names of Jeff Green and Brandon Bass have already surfaced in reported trade talks, and you can be sure they won’t be the last names you hear over the next nine days before the trade deadline arrives.

One name you likely won’t be hearing in Celtic trade talks, however, is Jared Sullinger. The reigning Eastern Conference Player of The Week has turned heads around the league with his improved consistency during the new calendar year.

While folks around the league may be enamored with the young forward, the Celtics are also well aware of the diamond in the rough they found with the 21st overall pick in last year’s draft.

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle is one of many NBA coaches that are feeling a bit of regret after passing on the Ohio State star in 2012.

“He was a great draft pick,” Carlisle explained, “A lot of people, I think, looked at his size and felt maybe that he wasn’t that dynamic. But he’s one of those guys who understands how to use leverage. He’s extremely strong, and the majority of people really overlooked his outside shooting ability. Brad [Stevens] has him shooting threes and posting up, and shooting mid-range. He’s a big weapon for them. If you look at their wins in recent weeks, when they’re winning games, he’s having big games.”

Sullinger has put on an absolute show lately, putting together double-doubles in six consecutive games, the longest streak for any Celtic player this season. Over this stretch, the 21-year-old is averaging 19.8 points and 12.8 rebounds per game, helping the Celtics recover from a brutal January to go 4-1 in the month of February thus far.

Sullinger attributes his recent growth to being active in all facets of the game.

“I’m just finding ways to play my game. Doing the little things, screening more, which creates more angles for me to score. Running the floor more, finding ways to get more offensive rebounds, finding ways to finish without using contact. There are so many things I went through as a player my first year in the NBA to now, I’m just trying to find my way through it,” Sullinger said.

The improved consistency Sullinger has displayed hasn’t been isolated to just February either. Over the 22 games thus far in 2014, Sullinger is among the league leaders with 13 double-doubles in those contests, despite battling multiple hand injuries. That’s a drastic jump from the five double-doubles the power forward posted over the first two months of the season, a clear sign the youngster is progressing leaps and bounds with his game.

“In January of 2013, I was going through the stretch where I was figuring out the NBA, and then I got hurt,” Sullinger continued. “I had to figure out who I could be as a basketball player. Finally, I have found that happy medium of when to step outside, when to go inside, when to hit the offensive glass and when not to. I finally found my groove.”

That work on the offensive glass particularly stands out for the undersized big man. Currently, with an offensive rebounding percentage of 13.0, he’s on pace to be the top offensive rebounder of the last 20 years for the Celtics, dating all the way back to Ed Pinckney during the 1991-92 season.

“It’s a big-time [part of my game], honestly,” Sullinger said. “It’s another way for me to score and give our team another possession to kill the clock and get other guys going. Little things like that get this team going.”

With Sullinger also adding an outside shot to his repertoire (one that admittedly still needs some work, as he’s hitting 26.2 percent of his 3-pointers this year), he’s working hard to become a well-rounded power forward. And in a refreshing change of pace for an NBA player, he also has the self-awareness to realize when he’s better off not hoisting up the deep shots.

“It’s just a rhythm thing, sometimes I got it, sometimes I don’t,” Sullinger said of his jumper.

As of now, Sullinger is under the Celtics’ control for at least the next two seasons at a bargain basement price. The big man isn’t untouchable in any trade, though; no one on this team is, quite frankly.

However, at this price, Sullinger should be a building block for this team’s future, rather than a trade chip to improve it. Barring being blown away by an offer, Danny Ainge should keep Sullinger’s name out of his wheeling and dealing in the next week.

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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