Sullinger eager to prove doubters wrong at basketballâ€™s
(Editorâ€™s note: True Blue Pistons continues a 14-part
series leading to the June 28 draft with a look at Jared
Sullinger, one of seven big men who could be on the board
when the Pistons pick at No. 9. Coming Tuesday: John Henson.)
If the fundamental question with Perry Jones III is why his
college production didnâ€™t match his scintillating talent
level, itâ€™s the reverse with Jared Sullinger: What chance
is there, given Sullingerâ€™s limited athleticism, that his
superb college production will carry over to the NBA?
Sullinger is at the opposite end of the continuum from
Jones, both as an athlete and, so far, as a basketball
Sullinger was a first-team All-American as both a freshman
and sophomore at Ohio State. Considered a lock to go in the
top 10 of the 2011 draft, Sullinger chose to return to
Columbus with the stated intention of winning a national
championship. He helped carry the Buckeyes to the Final
Four, where they lost to Kansas in the semifinals.
His numbers stayed remarkably similar, averaging better
than 17 points and around 10 rebounds a game both seasons.
Sullinger did come back leaner, shedding about 15 pounds,
and he diversified his scoring, becoming a better face-up
shooter with the ability to take the ball in the mid-post
and put it on the floor, as well.
Sullinger is intelligent and a team-first player who oozes
passion for basketball. Heâ€™ll come across extremely well
in predraft interviews. The son of a successful high school
coach with an older brother who also played at Ohio State,
Sullinger will draw nothing but high marks for character
Yet for all his productivity and admirable personal traits,
Sullinger comes with some heavy question marks â€" at least
for a lottery pick. Nobody doubts heâ€™ll hang around the
NBA a good long while and carve out a handsome living, but
can he deliver high impact if his physical limitations make
it difficult for him to score in the paint?
Is he Elton Brand or is he Glen â€œBig Babyâ€ Davis? Heâ€™s
heard both comparisons, as well as others, to Paul Millsap
or Al Jefferson or Kevin Love.
â€œI get so many different basketball players,â€ he said at
the Chicago draft combine, where Sullinger was helped by
physical measurements (6-foot-9 in shoes, a 7-foot-1 wing
span and a standing reach of 8-foot-11) but perhaps damaged
by bringing up the rear in lane agility and sprint times.
â€œI think Iâ€™m different because I like to play back to
the basket â€" actually, I love to play back to the basket
â€" but I can face up and shoot the jump shot as well.
Itâ€™s pick your poison with me.â€
In three games against Big Ten rival Michigan State last
season â€" a team with the closest thing the conference had
to NBA size with big men Derrick Nix and Adrean Payne
alternating on Sullinger â€" he shot just 33 percent,
making 17 of 51 shots. In the Final four loss to Kansas,
with 7-foot shot-blocker Jeff Withey and lottery pick
Thomas Robinson, Sullinger had 13 points and 11 boards, but
shot just 5 of 19.
Itâ€™s folly to make too much of small sample sizes, but
the many who wonder how Sullinger will score against size
are going to look hard at such things. NBA teams that bring
him to their cities for individual workouts will take pains
to arrange for long, athletic defenders to work against
Sullinger is well aware of his critics and their doubts. A
classic pudgy kid growing up, heâ€™s heard those doubts his
â€œCan I play defense? Can I jump? Will I be able to play
the four? Am I a five? Can I shoot the basketball? Will I
be able to guard the four or will I have to guard the five?
There are multiple questions people are going to ask,â€ he
said. â€œEverybodyâ€™s been asking that for years. Iâ€™m
kind of used to it.
â€œAll my life, Iâ€™ve been known as the underdog. People
said I wasnâ€™t going to be able to play at the college
level; I did. People said I wasnâ€™t going to be able to
play at the high school level. Some people said I was too
overweight to play at the middle school level.â€
Sullinger did not look unduly heavy in Chicago, and his
body fat percentage (10.7), though not ideal, was hardly
alarming, either. He weighed in at 268 and says his ideal
weight is anywhere from 255 to 270.
Most talent evaluators feel Sullinger will figure out a way
to be a force offensively, even if itâ€™s becoming
predominantly a pick-and-pop big man, a la Orlandoâ€™s
Davis. Itâ€™s on the defensive end where the concerns are
heightened. In particular, they worry Sullingerâ€™s lack of
lateral agility â€" long suspected, now confirmed by the
Chicago testing â€" will make it difficult for him to
defend the pick and roll, increasingly a staple of NBA
In assessing Sullinger, the Pistons will have to consider
how he fits next to Greg Monroe. Ideally, the player who
starts up front next to Monroe would have the ability to
play above the rim, represent a shot-blocking threat and
have a little more explosive athleticism than Sullinger
provides. There are a few players who could be available to
them who come closer to matching that profile â€"
Arnett Moultrie, John Henson,
Perry Jones III and
Meyers Leonard among them â€" but none are more certain
than Sullinger to become NBA difference makers.
One other thing NBA teams will mull as they assess
Sullinger: how his body type projects over a career of
82-game seasons. The weight Sullinger will have to carry up
and down 94 feet, at a tempo much higher than he
experienced in the often-plodding Big Ten, more often than
not takes a toll on the back, knees and feet. At Ohio State
last season, Sullinger was nagged by back spasms and missed
time with a foot injury. Perhaps those were minor, isolated
injuries that wouldnâ€™t cause teams any pause had they
been incurred by a shooting guard or a 230-pound big man.
With Sullinger, itâ€™s another complicating factor to
analyze in a player who already poses contradictions.