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Why Kevin Garnett comparing Jared Sullinger to Kendrick Perkins matters

It could be coincidence that Kevin Garnett [1] compared Jared Sullinger to Kendrick Perkins [2] three days after the rookie earned his first career NBA start for a coach who rarely even plays first-year guys, but it’s probably not.

“Jared understands what we’€™re doing,” said Garnett. “He’€™s a no-nonsense guy — not that I’€™m shooting anything at the other guys — but the young fella comes in, does his job and does what you tell him. He’€™s a great rebounder, his IQ is unbelievable, he can pass the ball and he reminds me a lot of Perk. Obviously, he’€™s not the defensive player that Perk was, but as far as IQ, moving the ball and being unselfish, he’€™s a great teammate.”

Don’t forget the Doc Rivers [3]-ism that the Celtics [4] never lost a playoff series with his starting five of Perkins, Garnett, Paul Pierce [5], Rajon Rondo [6] and Ray Allen [7]. Whether you consider Perkins overrated or not, he played a role for the Celtics: rebound, defend and finish around the basket. Sullinger fills that role.

“It means a lot, especially coming from Kevin,” said Sullinger of the comparison to Perkins. “When Kevin gives anybody praise, he really likes you, I guess, so it’€™s a blessing. But at the same time I’€™ve got to keep working. That’€™s pretty much my motto: Just to keep working.”

Over the weekend, Sullinger grabbed 14 rebounds (4 offensive) — more than any other Celtics player, including Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass [8], who each played more minutes. The rookie has taken 10 shots this season, all but one have come within eight feet of the basket and his only two free throws followed an offensive board. In other words, he understands his role, and if G.I. Joe taught us anything, it’s that knowing is half the battle.

“I’€™m not the strongest. I’€™m not the fastest. I’€™m not the most athletic,” said Sullinger, who is averaging four points and five boards in 18.7 minutes over three games. “But if I can think the game and be one step ahead of everybody else, it kind of puts you in those right positions. That’€™s pretty much what basketball IQ is to me.”

Sound familiar? During the 2008 title run, Perkins averaged 6.9 points — shooting 61.3 percent thanks to 95 percent of his shots coming inside 10 feet of the basket — to go along with 6.1 rebounds (1.9 offensive) in 24.5 minutes a night. More importantly, the Celtics never had to run a single play for him.

Last season, Bass averaged 5.1 shots from 16-23 feet. While he made 48 percent, almost all of them came from assists, and manufacturing shots for Bass steers the offense away from Rondo, Pierce and Garnett. Making Sullinger a starter delivers the Big Three more touches and gives the Celtics a similar scoring option to Garnett (6.0 FGA, 48 FG% from 16-23 feet in 2012) off the bench.

It took four seasons and Garnett to help Perkins find a role after entering the NBA out of high school, but Sully’s learning curve should be shorter. Even Perkins’ pal Rondo called Sullinger the smartest rookie he’s seen.

“It’€™s going to take time and understanding of where we’€™re coming from as a basketball team,” said Sully. “We’€™re slowly working on that. It’€™s not going to happen just yet, but give us about midseason, we’€™re going to be pretty good.”

The Celtics actively acquired players to replace Allen, but they may have lucked into the new Perkins.