Jared Sullinger is the best big man on the best team in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, so it's no surprise that NBA fans of high-lottery teams in the 2011 NBA Draft have had their eyes on him for quite some time. Sullinger came out of high school as one of the nation's top big man prospects, and went to Ohio State to follow in the footsteps of Greg Oden and Byron Mullens. Like Oden, Sullinger led his team to the No. 1 ranking and a No. 1 seed. But that's where the similarities between Sullinger and his fellow Ohio State big men prospects end.
Despite being only 19, Sullinger possesses a remarkably refined game, especially offensively. He uses angles extremely well and finishes pretty much everything around the rim. He has also flashed a developing face-up game, and hits a pretty solid percentage of his free throws (71 percent). That skill has allowed him to put up nearly 23 points per 40 minutes while shooting nearly 54 percent from the field, with a 59 percent true shooting percentage. He also doesn't turn the ball over much, surrendering it on only 10.8 percent of his possessions. The only thing teams can do to stop him is to prevent him from getting he ball, which has happened on occasion -- Sullinger has had 11 games where he played more than 25 minutes and attempted fewer than 10 shots. But a lot of that can be attributed to the poor spacing in the college game and the Buckeyes' slow pace.
Where Sullinger truly stands apart is on the glass. He is averaging over 13.2 rebounds per 40 minutes, including 4.4/40 minutes on the offensive end. Sullinger has great technique and does a great job of boxing out and grabbing rebounds in his zone. Rebounding is a skill that translates well to the NBA, so Sullinger should at the very least be an excellent rebounder in the pros.
Sullinger's biggest weakness is that he isn't particularly athletic. This especially shows up at the defensive end, where Sullinger struggles to guard athletic big men who can step out on the perimeter. This isn't a huge problem in college, but it will be a major problem in the pros, where nearly every big man can shoot from 17 feet and out. Sullinger projects to be an NBA power forward, and he will need to improve his body tremendously to stay with face-up power forwards such as Dirk Nowitzki, Lamar Odom, Chris Bosh, Kevin Love, David West and Amar'e Stoudemire.
Ohio State will have several tough opponents on the horizon, with potential dates against Kentucky, Syracuse and North Carolina. The latter two teams have athletic big men that may give Sullinger fits in a potential Elite 8 matchup. Sullinger's performance against that caliber a player will ultimately determine his draft position. Draft Express currently has him going No. 3 overall, but with a good performance, Sullinger could vault to the top of the draft board.
WHO: Jared Sullinger, forward/center, Ohio State. 6'9'', 250 pounds. Post player.
WHEN: Friday, March 18 at 4:40 PM Eastern on TNT (Ohio State vs. UNC-Asheville or Arkansas-Little Rock).
PAY SPECIAL ATTENTION: Fans of the Cavaliers, Wizards, Raptors and Pistons
NBA COMPARISON: Carlos Boozer, but grounded.
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