WALTHAM, Mass. -- A year ago, after back surgery erased his entire offseason, Boston Celtics big man Jared Sullinger admitted to huffing and puffing during the early days of training camp. This time around, having spent much of the summer with a focus on improving his conditioning, Sullinger is much more pleased with his ability to get up and down the court.
"Not where I want to be, but really, really close," Sullinger said of his conditioning level. "Getting up and down in practice has really been helpful, especially the pace that we’re playing. There’s no choice but for me to get in shape. As long as practices keep staying like this, with the competition that we have in Brandon [Bass] and Tyler [Zeller] and Erik Murphy and Dwight [Powell] and Kelly [Olynyk], you have no choice but to play as hard as you can."
The most uttered word through the first two days of Celtics camp probably has been "pace." The Celtics want to increase the tempo this season and that means bigs need to be ready to run in transition. Newcomer Zeller has earned rave reviews for his gazelle-like ability to sprint the floor, which means Sullinger has no choice but to chase when working against him.
"You know, it’s kind of what we do," Sullinger said of having to chase the likes of Zeller. "It’s part of the game, it’s part of our job description. You’ve got to keep up with somebody. Just got to keep playing."
The Celtics were not a particularly slow team last season. Even with Rajon Rondo sidelined for much of the season, Boston averaged 95.88 possessions per 48 minutes, landing smack-dab in the middle of the league (15th overall). But the Celtics' anemic offensive performance, particularly in half-court sets, has left coach Brad Stevens pleading for pace to create better scoring opportunities.
"The bottom line is we’re going to start trying to be faster, with more emphasis on pace and space," Stevens explained of the offensive game plan. "And faster is maybe not the appropriate term, but the right pace. All the time. A very consistent pace, all the time that we need to play with. Both in the half court when we are attacking against a set defense, and then when we get out in the break in primary transition."
Sullinger's conditioning is key to keeping him on the floor when that tempo is sped up. Last season, he averaged 27.6 minutes per game, but admitted his performance tended to dip late in games. The Celtics don't want to just increase Sullinger's minutes, but maintain his performance level.
If the summer didn't get him in peak form, chasing the team's other bigs in camp ought to help him.
The rest of the headlines from Day 2 of training camp:
• Check-up: Faverani sits out: Second-year center Vitor Faverani sat out Wednesday's practices and underwent an MRI after experiencing swelling in his surgically repaired left knee. "Vitor had a little bit of swelling, so we sent him up to [team physician Dr. Brian McKeon] and took an MRI, just to be sure be certain," Stevens said. "[Faverani] doesn’t feel like it’s an insurmountable amount of pain, it’s just he’s got a lot more swelling than he had hoped." Faverani's rookie campaign ended in March when he underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Stevens stressed that the swelling Faverani is experiencing is "probably not too atypical" after participating in parts of the team's initial double session on Tuesday. Fellow center Joel Anthony (groin) got cleared for more activity, but is still not a full-go.
• Movie time: For Stevens and his staff, the best part of camp might be the influx of new video. After nearly driving himself insane analyzing last season's game film over the summer, Stevens said the staff dove hard into practice film of Tuesday's double session. "We got in here this morning and watched film for 30 minutes before we got on the the court," Stevens said. "We broke it down pretty thoroughly. Then, after we got off the court, I go back up to my office and [assistant] Jay Larranaga's up there with Evan [Turner] watching more. That’s just what you do; this is their job. [Newcomers] have to put the time in to get up to speed, just like anyone would have to put the time in to any industry to get up to speed. These guys are doing a good job and I think the staff has done a good job in these early stages in helping."
• Rookie report: Stevens offered some high praise for both of the team's rookies in Marcus Smart and James Young. "First of all, with James, I went through all our scrimmage segments [from Tuesday] on film and anything that was live at all in pretty good detail and the most impressive thing about James was that he never really crossed my radar as making mistakes defensively, which is pretty impressive for a young guy," Stevens said. "Marcus has a chance to be a game-changer on the other end of the floor. He’s just got to get used to playing, from an offensive standpoint, at the right pace for him. That’s different for everybody. We talk about wanting to play at a faster pace, but I think it’s got to be at the right pace for each of the guys involved and he’ll figure that out." Asked if both rookies are capable of making an immediate impact, Stevens cautioned that it's "too early to know."