BOSTON (CBS) - It's been a long winding road back to the floor for Jared Sullinger.
A disappointing offseason, marred by dropped domestic charges against the second-year power forward, as well as a one-game suspension, made it hard to recall, for many, just what else Sullinger endured in his return to the floor this year.
"I thought people forgot about my surgery. Hardly anyone ever talks about it anymore," Sullinger said yesterday at practice. He underwent the lumbar disc surgery in his back last February, which closed the door his rookie season prematurely. The procedure ended years of back issues that caused his stock to plummet in the 2012 NBA Draft.
"The back problem is from 2½ years ago, from my freshman year in college. From there, it just kind of messed up the beginning of my walk, as seen last year, where I had the hitch in my walk with my right leg and the sciatic nerve in my right leg. It was a whole bunch of things going on with me at once," Sullinger said.
Now Sullinger is pain-free in his back and expects to return to the floor Friday night, after missing Wednesday's loss to Charlotte with a bone bruise in his right knee.
His return is a welcome development for this Celtics team, as Sullinger has proved to be one of this roster's most vital contributors through nine games, surprising even himself in his return to the floor.
'I'm honestly shocked the way I'm playing now, coming off the surgery, doing the things I'm doing. I'm feeling pretty good about myself as far as the movements and stuff," Sullinger admitted.
The numbers back up Sullinger's strong impressions of himself earlier in the season. Despite playing a meager 19.7 minutes per game, the former Ohio State star has nearly doubled his points per game production from last year, from 6.0 to 11.3. He's shooting with great efficiency as well, hitting 50 percent of his shot attempts.
The increased scoring production is an added bonus to the bread and butter of Sullinger's game from last season: his work on the glass. The power forward has posted top-3 numbers on the team for both offensive and defensive rebounding rates in his seven games of action this year.
Sullinger's contributions all over the floor show him as the team's best player in several categories early in the season. He has a team-high 22.5 player efficiency rating and has the highest on-court plus/minus mark (+10.4) out of any player currently in the team's rotation.
"He can score in the post, and he's really savvy. It adds to our team in a lot of ways," Brad Stevens said.
Despite all of these strides within his game, Sullinger still knows there is plenty of work to be done in his road to a complete recovery.
"I think it shows every game, with me being able to be consistent, that I'm getting better. It's a long season, so I have a long way to go to get into the shape I want myself to be in. I'm working every day before and after games, and after practices to try to progress," Sullinger said.
Brad Stevens reiterated those thoughts on the big man needing to build up his conditioning, so he can stay out on the floor more.
"He can still get better and better, but that's in terms of how many minutes he can play. He's already a productive very good player, but hopefully those minutes can go up and up. I think he's done a really good job. The two games we didn't have him, we missed him. We just didn't have enough of a post presence with him out," Stevens explained.
With Boston's next six opponents sporting .500 records or better, the Celtics will need Sullinger to continue making strides to keep pace in the wide-open Eastern Conference playoff race.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.
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