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Commentary: Jared Sullinger’s skills might not transfer to the NBA

Cody Cousino / Photo editor

For a player who played two years of college basketball, former Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger’s résumé is hard to top.

Sullinger was an All-American in each of his two seasons at OSU, averaging 17.3 points per game and about 9.7 rebounds per game over the course of his collegiate career. As a freshman, he led the Buckeyes to a 34-win season which ended in a Sweet 16 loss. As a sophomore, he led OSU to the Final Four, where their run ended against Kansas.

Wednesday, Sullinger announced that he would declare for the 2012 NBA Draft.

He is a skilled post player who managed to average 17.5 points per game for his sophomore season, even though he faced double-team or triple-team defense nearly every time he touched the ball in the paint. He was able to do this because of his impressive array of post moves – no player in college basketball last season was better at using the hook shot to score over multiple defenders.

Sullinger’s post scoring and rebounding abilities make him a likely top-10 draft selection, but there are many deficiencies in his game that he must overcome to be successful at the professional level.

Sullinger stands at 6-foot-9, which is slightly short for an NBA power forward. The bigger problem for Sullinger, however, is that he will be a subpar athlete by NBA standards.

He does not have an impressive vertical leap, and lacks the ability to play “above the rim” that most NBA forwards can. Dunking the basketball often looked like a struggle for him during his college career, a skill that comes easy for most NBA power forwards. Additionally, his lack of athleticism will hurt his ability to be an NBA shot-blocker. He averaged less than one block per game over his two-year OSU career, so that has never been a strength of his game.

He is a well-built, 265-pound power forward, but even this past season, he often looked like he was still getting used to his body. He has the physical strength to physically dominate opponents in the paint, but his play could often be characterized by a lack of aggressiveness and shying away from contact. He must be more aggressive against NBA big men to make up for his lack of athleticism.

Sullinger is often compared to Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love. In some facets, this comparison makes sense. Love is slightly taller at 6-foot-10, but like Sullinger, he lacks the height and athleticism of top NBA big men. Love only played one season of college basketball at UCLA, but had similar statistics to Sullinger, averaging 17.5 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. Both players were among the best players in college basketball based on their technical skill sets, even though they lack elite athleticism.

Comparing Sullinger to Love now, however, is giving Sullinger too much credit. Love, in his fourth season in the NBA, has emerged as one of the league’s best power forwards. As of Monday afternoon, he ranked 4th in the NBA with 26.5 points per game and 2nd with 13.5 rebounds per game. In addition to the skills Sullinger has, Love is a terrific 3-point shooter, a skill unlikely to translate to the next level for Sullinger. Although Sullinger did shoot 40 percent from beyond the arc in his sophomore season, he only attempted 40 3-point shots. He is a good mid-range field goal shooter in the NBA, but will have to become a more consistent shooter to be successful shooting from beyond the NBA-range 3-point arc.

By looking at his statistics and achievements on paper, Sullinger appears to be a very good NBA prospect. However, having watched him over the course of two seasons at OSU, he was not physically impressive enough to convince me that his game will translate to NBA success.

Sullinger’s post moves and rebounding ability should make him a productive professional player, but his lack of athleticism, aggressiveness and ability to make plays away from the basket are serious detriments to his NBA potential.

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