The story of Ohio State sophomore Jared Sullinger is one of the most intriguing as the draft approaches. He could have gone No. 1 overall if he had come out after his freshman season. The latest mock drafts have him going much farther down the line: Draft Express has him going sixth, ESPN's Chad Ford projects him as the 13th pick (Insider link), and NBADraft.net predicts he'll fall out of the lottery completely, landing at No. 15. His fate is one many players will surely cite when they decide to come out earlier than perhaps they should. You may have plenty to gain by staying in school, but there's a lot to lose, too. Last year's No. 1 pick, Kyrie Irving, signed a four-year deal that will give him between $3MM and $4MM more each season than No. 15 pick Kawhi Leonard gets.
What's caused him to slip in the eyes of NBA teams is his lack of athleticism and explosion around the rim. Still, that's been a criticism all along, as witnessed by Josh Cochran's NBADraft.net scouting report from 2009. Jonathan Givony of Draft Express cites his 6'9", 280-pound frame as a problem — he's too small to be a prototypical center, and not agile enough to cover the league's increasingly athletic power forwards. Tommy Dee of Sheridan Hoops cites his difficulty defending taller players as a weakness, yet, as Givony points out, it didn't stop Ohio State from being an elite defensive team in college basketball this year. While it's difficult to draw conclusions about a player's worth based on his team's success in college, the fact that the Buckeyes went to two Sweet 16s and a Final Four during Sullinger's time can't be a knock on him.
Givony points to his polished post game, lack of turnovers and passing ability as some of his positives, and Dee calls him "the most complete post player in the nation." Efficiency is one of his hallmarks, and he makes opposing teams pay at the foul line, knocking down 76.8% of his free throws this year, a plus for a big man. When it's not working down low offensively, he can go outside, too. He took 1.1 three pointers a game and nailed 42.1% of them. He has a midrange game, too, as Dee praises his ability to knock down looks from 15 to 18 feet.
Givony compares him to Kevin Love, and while that's not the kind of analogy being bandied about too often now as Sullinger's stock takes a nose dive, I think it still holds. It would be a challenge for Sullinger, or anyone else, to put up the kind of numbers Love does, but Love's ability to maximize his basketball skills while minimizing his lack of overpowering athleticism provides a blueprint for Sullinger to follow. Love, who was the 5th pick in 2008, would probably be drafted higher if teams had a chance to do it over again, and unless teams brighten their outlook on Sullinger between now and June, the same could be said for him in a few years.