Most of you know what it’s like driving to work in New England.
When you first start a job, you need a GPS to get you where you’re going. You go slow, you turn your radio down, you squint at street signs, and you hit the same… damn… pothole… EVERY time.
But after a while, you perfect your route. You’ve timed out the lights so you know how much yellow you really have. You know where the cops hide out. And you know to swerve just a little bit at the right time and let that pothole pass right underneath you.
Welcome to Jared Sullinger’s road in the NBA. Last night, Sullinger faced legitimate NBA big men, big men bigger than him, while also dealing with the quick hands of little guys just waiting for him to bring the ball down to their level. Last night, the things that had worked for him for three preseason games were much more difficult.
The numbers aren’t horrible: 9 points on 3-6 shooting, 5 rebounds, 2 turnovers, all in 23 minutes. And maybe this is a bright spot in this story. In a game where most of us saw Sullinger struggle with what had previously worked, his output was perfectly palatable.
But it’s also obvious that the rookie is still zero actual NBA games into his career, and despite all the gushing and “high basketball IQ comments,” there is still a learning curve. It’s quite obvious why Doc, right now, wants Sullinger out there with other bigs, preferably Kevin Garnett.
Obviously, Garnett makes everything better. His impact is still, amazingly, felt everywhere on the court. And were Garnett in the game along side Sullinger, he very well may have had more room to move, and an easier time of things. But Sullinger didn’t. And he won’t after a few years.
So he struggled. There were times where the ball was slapped away, but he got the ball back. There were times his shot was bothered by bigger players and he missed. There were times he had to pass out of trouble. There were times he was just in the way.
Welcome to a rookie’s life. I’m sure there was a seat right next to Kevin Garnett on the flight back to Boston. I’m sure a lot of film has already been watched. And there was enough good in this game to know that one tough outing from Sullinger may well be the exception rather than the rule.
If his basketball IQ is as high as everyone says it is, and there is little reason to doubt that it’s not, then last night was actually good for Sullinger. Scientists will often tell you that they can sometimes learn more from failed experiments than successful ones. For a smart kid like Sullinger, who happens to be surrounded by smart veteran players and a pretty smart coaching staff, the failures of facing bigger and better defensive opponents should manifest itself into future success.
This won’t be Sullinger’s last bump in the road. But as long as he learns from each one and builds on those experiences, then the roughness that usually defines a rookie’s life will be smoothed into the polished career of a solid NBA player.