WALTHAM — This is Jared Sullinger’s first summer as an NBA player in which he is not dealing with back issues, and he plans to capitalize on being healthy by making himself a more productive player.
The burly forward, entering his third season, said a physical transformation will ensure he is fresher in the late stages of games. Sullinger, who Wednesday practiced with the Celtics’ summer league squad (although he will not play), wants to begin next season in career-best condition.
“I think conditioning was a big factor,” he said. “Late in the game, I’d get tired and stop doing the things that I normally do in the first quarter. I think conditioning will kind of help that out. It’s another opportunity to play against other guys and kind of push myself to another limit, work on things that I don’t normally work on by myself and then I’ve got bodies out here. Going against bodies, pushing myself through contact. So everything is kind of helping me with conditioning.”
Sullinger played 19.8 minutes per game as a rookie under Doc Rivers and that increased to 27.6 per game last season under Brad Stevens. Sullinger’s playing time over his career has been limited because of foul trouble.
He averaged 13.3 points and 8.1 rebounds in 74 games last season and likely will compete with Kelly Olynyk for a starting position at power forward.
Sullinger’s progress has been impressive to summer league coach Jay Larranaga.
“Like with any young player, you have to continue to progress, you have to continue to get better,” Larranaga said. “He came into the league at a very young age, and so now he’s had two years to learn from Kevin [Garnett] his first year, to learn from just competing for a full season this past year. So we expect him to take great strides and continue to develop leadership qualities.”
At the end of last season, Sullinger promised to trim his 270-plus-pound frame, as the Celtics project him to be a stretch power forward in the mold of a Kevin Love. Sullinger doesn’t look considerably lighter, but said that isn’t a concern.
“Not really focused on weight. More shape,” he said. “How long I can run, how fast I can run. Pretty much how long I can stay on the court without passing out. I’m working on that every day. I think I’ve got quick feet for my size. Losing weight and getting in better shape is only going to enhance that.”
Getting to point
Larranaga has been working out top draft choice Marcus Smart primarily at point guard as the Celtics prepare for summer league competition. The two point guards on the club are Smart and second-year player Phil Pressey. Smart said he has concentrated on nothing but basketball in the week he has been a Celtic.
“I see myself playing more than the 1, both guard spots,” he said. “It all comes down to what the team needs and where coach thinks I will fit best at.”
Larranaga said the primary goal is to sharpen Smart’s ball-handling and distribution skills.
“We want him to get comfortable with point guard,” the coach said. “With three days of practice, and just getting guys familiar with the limited sets that we’re using, let him play the point the first two days. He and Phil will probably play together some, they are two of our better players and you don’t want to have one of your best players sitting on the bench. So we’ll try to get the best players out there.
“He and Phil are such unselfish players and team-oriented guys, that having them together I think will be a good thing. Phil and Marcus have been really good over these first two practices, they’re both tremendously competitive people. I think they are pushing each other, which is a great thing.”
Young still out
First-round pick James Young missed his second consecutive summer league practice, watching from the sideline. Young missed his last five NBA Draft workouts because of a car accident in which he received undisclosed injuries. Larranaga wouldn’t count Young out for summer league games, but he is questionable for Saturday’s opener against Shabazz Napier and the Heat. The Celtics have Sunday off and return to the court Monday against the Pacers.