Draft Profile: Jared Sullinger

April 30th, 2012 by Kevin Hetrick

Well, the seasons over.  Time to watch other squads square-off in the NBA playoffs while waiting for the lottery, draft day, and eventually, free agency.  Or if you’re more ambitious than that, you can find a hobby; it’s nice outside this time of year.  I  have allergies though, so I will spend my off-season profiling players whom will go 90% undrafted by the Cavs. 

With a 95% chance at a top five pick, Jared Sullinger probably won’t be on Cleveland’s radar.  I wrote a draft profile anyways, because what’s a series like this, on Cavs:the Blog, without discussing the draft’s highest profile Ohioan.

Sullinger shoots a hook shot against Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship (Jonathan Daniel - Getty Images)

Sullinger just completed his sophomore year, turning 20 in March, and leading Ohio State to the NCAA tournament’s Final Four.  He averaged 17 points and 9 rebounds on 59% true shooting in 30 minutes per game.  At 6’9” and 270 lbs, he possesses impressive strength and sports a wingspan of over 7 feet.  Utilizing his wide frame, he can establish deep post position, where he displays an array of post moves.  Also an effective shooter, Sullinger scores as a pick-and-pop threat, reflected in his 40%  three point shooting (16 of 40 this year).  From the free throw line he shot 77%, while attempting the 18th most freebies in the NCAA this season.  Combined with his size; solid effort & positioning make him excellent on the boards, where his offensive and defensive rebounding percentages ranked 2nd in the Big Ten.  The biggest question marks about his transition to the NBA are his conditioning & below-the-rim style.  He lost twenty pounds between his freshman and sophomore years, but still lacks the speed and explosiveness to score efficiently against long, athletic big men.    His physique also  raises defensive concerns; primarily an inability to operate as a major shot-blocking presence and as a liability obstructing quick NBA power forwards.

For a deeper look…onto some game recaps:

03/10 against Michigan – Against a young & undersized Wolverine squad, Sullinger dominated to the tune of 24 points on 72% true shooting.  He scored 8 of Ohio State’s first 10 points, as the Buckeyes cruised to a 77 – 55 victory.  Flashing lefty and righty hook shots, turnaround jumpers, up & unders; Michigan’s bigs could not contain him on the block.  He hit pick-and-pop and step-back jumpers, grabbed offensive rebounds…every offensive skill you would want to see from a big man was on display.  Defense was a mixed bag.  He botched a couple of pick-and-rolls and his focus appeared to wane at times; losing track of his man in transition or on the boards, and one time, fouling a three point shooter. Surprisingly quick feet and rotations gained him a drawn charge, and he frequently posed a nuisance at the basket, including blocking two shots.

03/11 against Michigan St – Sitting much of the first half due to foul trouble; Sullinger finished with 18 points and 9 rebounds as Ohio State lost the Big Ten championship game.  As part of a trend, Sullinger struggled against a long, athletic opposing big man, this time Spartan sophomore Adrien Payne.  Payne is 6’10” with a 7’ wingspan, was ranked 30th in their high school class, and lead the Big Ten in block percentage this year.  Sullinger’s 7 of 19 from the field largely resulted due to the menacing presence of Payne.  Despite the poor day shooting, the Buckeye big man showcased several post moves: left & right handed hook shots, once as a countermove, and also hitting a turnaround jumper.  The same defensive miscues of the prior day were present; butchered pick-and-rolls and occasional bouts of lost focus.  A personal irritation about Sullinger is that he complains too much about non-calls; he needs to get back on defense.

03/24 against Syracuse – Helping Ohio State reach their first Final Four in five years, he made his presence felt in 26 foul-trouble-reduced minutes (I thought a few whistles were questionable.  The refs called a tight game, with 67 combined free throws). Sullinger tallied 19 points and 7 rebounds on 66% true shooting. Powerful back-downs and drop steps, combined with convincing shot fakes, lead to twelve trips to the charity stripe.  On one deft isolation move, he pulled up for a 14-ft bank shot.  At least four times, he exhibited swift lateral movement, staying with a Syracuse guard on a switch and forcing a miss or a turnover.  Help from him at the rim was largely non-existent however, again a function of his generally floor-bound game.

Summary: Sullinger will be a solid pro, as he possesses offensive skill, defensive & rebounding fundamentals, and fine understanding of the game.  He’ll struggle against the NBA’s more athletic and defensive minded power forwards, but will not exist as option #1 for his team, which should help him.  If his opponent poses problems; he can focus on rebounding, maybe hit a few jumpers, and his team can run their offense through the surely better options they will have.  There will be “good” match-ups; for every Kevin Garnett, there is an Antawn Jamison or 6’-6” Carl Landry. When his weaknesses were exposed at Ohio State, it appeared to be a combination of two things: he played center and the offense relied heavily on him.  If matched up against 7-footer Jeff Withey, the Big Twelve defensive player of the year, as Sullinger was in the Final Four, Ohio State still needed him to shoot nineteen times.  In the NBA, that won’t happen, and Sullinger shouldn’t expect it to happen.

As a parting thought on J-Sull’s defense, according to Ken Pomeroy, Ohio State had the 2nd best schedule-adjusted defensive rating in the NCAA this year (they were top-20 without adjusting for schedule).  Certainly much credit goes to Thad Matta, but unless your starting center capably handles his responsibilities, clearly an elite defense can not be built. While obviously not a good bet to make all-defense teams, Sullinger’s smarts & strength make him a suitable team defender and a non-liability.  He needs to continue improving his jumper & conditioning, and refining his post repertoire.  Focus on the “dirty work” early in his career, quit complaining about perceived missed calls, and develop into an efficient 15 & 9 guy.  That is a totally attainable goal for 25-year-old Mr. Sullinger.