Person of Interest: New Raptors forward Jared Sullinger

New Toronto Raptors forward Jared Sullinger (Elise Amendola/AP)

After having his qualifying offer renounced by the Boston Celtics, free agent forward Jared Sullinger took to Twitter to announce he had signed with the Toronto Raptors.

Here’s what you need to know about the newest Raptors player.

Name: Jared Sullinger
Position: Power forward
Height: 6-foot-9 | Weight: 260 pounds
Drafted: 2012 – First round, 21st overall by the Boston Celtics
2015-16 stats: 10.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 23.6 minutes, 43.5 FG%

Having signed with the Raptors for a reported one year at $6 million, the price for Sullinger was right and he helps fill the hole the Raptors have at power forward with the departure of James Johnson and the Raptors unlikely to ask Luis Scola to return for another season. However, whether Sullinger is the answer Masai Ujiri and Co. have been looking for at the four or not is another matter, entirely.

Low-risk, high upside
The contract Sullinger reportedly signed is very similar to the deal Ujiri inked Bismack Biyombo and Scola to last year in that if Sullinger pans out it’ll look like he’s overplaying it, and if not then it just ends up being an easy deal to swallow for the season.

Sullinger is a legitimately talented low-post scorer, capable of carving out space with his body and find angles that make him difficult to defend. His wide body also helps him fight for position and makes it easier for him to grab rebounds, despite being slightly undersized height-wise for his position.

Additionally, Sullinger has a bit of a face-up game where he can make use of a his decent midrange jumper and surprising quickness against defenders who may not be comfortable guarding a big outside of the paint.

Essentially, should Sullinger work out the way the Raptors hope, he will end up looking like a clear upgrade over Scola from last season with a little more offensive grit to his game.

Not a perfect fit for the Raptors
With that said, despite the many positive attributes Sullinger brings to the table for the Raptors, he ultimately isn’t what the Raptors actually need at the four.

The modern NBA now dictates that a team’s starting power forward can ably defend the pick-and-roll and hedge out on point guards while still being able to recover back and protect the paint and, on the offensive end, be able to stretch the floors with three-point shooting in addition to having a post game.

As a defender, Sullinger can play the pick-and-roll decently enough, but he’s definitely not a rim protector – he’s only averaging 0.6 blocks per game for his career. As for a three-point stroke, he attempted to add that to his game last season but it didn’t bear any fruit as he shot just 28.8 per cent from deep.

This all adds up to awkward fits alongside some of the other Raptors big men on the roster. If he were to pair up with Jonas Valanciunas or rookie Jakob Poeltl, who are both back-to-the-basket scorers, he would potentially muck up the Raptors’ spacing since he can’t stretch out beyond the arc.

With Patrick Patterson, he’d be able to play on the inside offensively, but on the defensive end the Raptors would be bereft of any kind of protection at the rim as Patterson isn’t an intimidator down low either.

So while Sullinger is a talented potentially high-reward flyer to take, he still isn’t exactly what the Raptors are looking for to start games for them at power forward.

Conditioning has been a problem in the past
Before the beginning of last season Sullinger was reportedly challenged by the Celtics to slim down and come into the year in better shape. At 260 pounds, Sullinger isn’t small by any means, but he was heavier before and while the wide body is a big part of his game, it ended up preventing him from playing as long and as effectively as he could.

Jared Sullinger on Twitter

Sullinger’s poor fitness may have also contributed to some of the injury problems he’s encountered throughout his career. In February 2015 he was ruled out for the season with a severe stress fracture in his left foot but ended up returning in April for the final five games of the season.

And in February of his rookie season he underwent back surgery that ended his season. Back concerns plagued Sullinger through the early parts of his pro career. While going through the draft process he was reportedly flagged by teams for back issues, something that resulted in him dropping down to No. 21 in the draft instead of in the lottery as was originally projected.

Was a college superstar
Those back issues at the end of his collegiate career aside, the two seasons Sullinger played at Ohio State were absolutely dominant.

A bona fide superstar in college, Sullinger averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game in his freshman year and then followed that up with averages of 17.5 points and 9.2 rebounds in his sophomore season.

Over the course of his Buckeyes career Sullinger was named a consensus first-team All-American twice and was the national freshman of the year in 2011. In 2012 he led the Buckeyes to a Final Four appearance where Ohio State ended up falling to Kansas University.

Off-court incident
In September 2013, just before the start of his rookie season, Sullinger was arrested for a domestic assault incident involving his girlfriend at the time, Deann Smith.

Sullinger pleaded not guilty to the charges. A month later, charges were dismissed after Smith refused to testify.

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