Through the first half of the regular season, Phoenix Suns rookie point guard Kendall Marshall has received just 52 minutes of playing time, and many are ready to mark him as a bust.
To be fair, Marshall has not been given enough playing time to truly judge him. Playing a few minutes at the end of the fourth quarter in blowout games doesn't give us a great sense of whether he can actually perform at the professional level. But even though he hasn't exactly been given a fair shot at displaying his talents yet, most Suns fans will agree that drafting Marshall was a mistake.
Still, who would the Suns have taken instead? All of the best rookies this season have been the top draft picks, and there are no real second round success stories. But, if the Suns could participate in a re-draft, there in one impact player who was taken after Marshall that could have helped this team tremendously.
That man is Jared Sullinger.
Sullinger, a two-time All-American at Ohio State, was taken with the 21st pick in the draft by the Boston Celtics, which was surprisingly low for the power forward.
With a 6'9", 280 lb. frame and a very small vertical leap, many believed that Sullinger would be a tweener incapable of succeeding in the NBA due to a lack of athleticism. To make matters worse, he was then flagged by several teams before the draft due to back issues.
But now, halfway into his rookie season, Sullinger is proving his critics wrong.
Right now, Sullinger is averaging 6.2 points and 6.1 rebounds a for the season. But for the month of January, he's averaging 8.3 points and 8.6 rebounds in just 25.6 minutes a game. Per 36 minutes, Sullinger pulls down more rebounds than Al Jefferson, Roy Hibbert, David Lee, Joakim Noah and many other big men. Not bad for a 6'9" player who can't elevate himself very high into the air in the first place.
Sullinger's rebounding efforts would have helped this team tremendously. The Suns are 25th in the league in total rebounds, and Marcin Gortat and Luis Scola are the team's only two players who average more than five rebounds a game.
Sullinger is also scoring more points recently, partially because he works so hard on the offensive glass and then quickly puts a shot up after grabbing the rebound. He has an offensive rebounding percentage of 13.3 percent, and he grabs four offensive rebounds per 36 minutes.
To put that in perspective, Markieff Morris is the Suns' best offensive rebounder, and he averages just 2.8 offensive boars per 36 minutes with an 8.7 offensive rebounding percentage. The Suns, who currently rank 17th in the league in total offensive rebounds, would definitely benefit from Sullinger's work on the glass.
And even with rebounding playing a role in his increased scoring, Sullinger can also hit a mid-range jumpshot if he has to. This shot chart shows that he is inconsistent and does have his own respective hot and areas, but overall Sullinger shoots 39 percent from mid-range, which is great for a big man. He doesn't have enough range to knock down threes, but he can still stretch the floor in addition to being a threat in the post who can put his back to the basket.
And most importantly, Sullinger is also a great defensive player. He may not put up three blocks a game or have those flashy defensive stats, but he does shut down opponents, whether they have a height advantage over him or not.
This season, Sullinger has a defensive rating of 102, which is greater than any in Phoenix. And while playing power forward, Sullinger holds his opponents to averages of 14.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per 36 minutes with an effective field goal percentage of just 47 percent.
To prove that Sullinger really does make a difference for the Celtics on both offense and defense, you can just look at the stats. The Celtics have a higher field goal percentage, rebound better and have a higher offensive rating with Sullinger on the floor. And when he's not playing, they allow their opponents to grab more rebounds and score more points. The Celtics have outscored their opponents by 79 points with Sullinger on the floor, so clearly he could help Phoenix as well.
Right now, the Suns are one of the bottom-third NBA teams in most offensive and defensive categories, and Kendall Marshall hasn't helped this current roster succeed in any way. Sullinger is an impact player with a bright future who would have definitely helped this team with a lot of their problems.
Perhaps the Suns didn't have a dire need for a big man, but Luis Scola is only getting older, Channing Frye may never be the same player and Markieff Morris is developing but is also very consistent. Sullinger, on the other hand, has great potential and could have been this team's future starting power forward for years to come.