Our NBA prospect rundown continues down the Naismith list, heading into the low post to Ohio State power forward Jared Sullinger.
*UPDATE — After the season-ending loss to Kentucky, Sullinger announced he is returning to the Buckeyes; I’ll believe it when the deadline comes and he has not filed his draft papers.
A Columbus native, Sullinger is listed at 6’9, and 280 pounds, but many scouts expect him to measure at least a full inch shorter than that during draft prep. Not an elite athlete by NBA standards, that has not stopped the freshman from establishing himself as the dominant big man in college basketball this season. Astoundingly nimble for his size, Sullinger has soft hands, catching everything passed to him, and controlling tips and rebounds exceptionally well. He displays considerable muscle and strength, especially in his base, allowing him to establish deep post position and stick with his moves and shots through contact. For a freshman carrying such a load on the top team in the nation, Sullinger efficiently plays within himself at all times, taking only 11 shots a game, while garnering over 7 free throw attempts every night and rarely turning the ball over.
Although he can show good form on his jumper, he really needs to work on keeping his mechanics consistent; if he extends his range out to 16-18 feet, that would open up a whole new level of danger to his game. Sullinger has a huge frame and broad shoulders to go with that base, and needs to tone his upper body and turn some of the sheer size into tight, fast-twitch muscle to guard NBA power forwards. While he’ll never have above-average speed, a little more quickness and explosiveness will allow him to stay in front of stretch 4’s out to the 3-point line, and lead to more shot-blocking opportunities as a help defender. He also must improve his offensive footwork in the post when he starts playing against the best defenders in the world. He has a nice set of moves, counters, and an ability to finish with either hand around the rim, but gets into bad habits too often. His whole life, he’s been the biggest and the strongest player on the court, and is able to thrive on overpowering opponents — at the next level, he won’t succeed going up for shots with his back to the rim, or off the wrong foot, expecting to turn and finish with no one in his face.
As the era of dominant centers wanes, the game is opening up to undersized big men in a way that it never has before, and Sullinger is primed to take full advantage of that. He doesn’t possess three-point range or a magnetic attraction to rebounds like Kevin Love, but has a nice shooting touch, and shows an absolutely spectacular basketball IQ — Sullinger always seems to be in the right place, always knowing where his teammates and opponents will be in the offensive and defensive systems. With his established physicality and feel for the game, I don’t expect Sullinger to run into the same learning curve that most big man prospects do while transitioning into the NBA. He has held up to the rigors of the college game and thrived, continuing to put up great performances into February and March. He just turned 19 earlier this month, so it’s not unfathomable that he could still be growing, and at a legit 6’10 or 6’11, he would be far and away the consensus #1 when he declares for the draft.
Current NBA Comparison: Elton Brand
Current Stats (Entering Sweet 16 games): 17.1 PPG, 10.0 RPG, .5 BPG, .543 FG/.702 FT