NBA draft: Status of Ohio State’s Sullinger is an enigma

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series on the NBA draft on FOXSportsOhio.com.

With the collective-bargaining agreement expiring in July, very little is known about the NBA’s offseason. And that mystery involves the college draft and top prospects like Ohio State big man Jared Sullinger.

There are several schools of thought involving Sullinger, a 6-foot-9 freshman who possesses a bruising game with strong fundamentals (a la former Cavs center Brad Daugherty).

The first theory is that Sullinger will return to school. His father has said as much to folks in NBA circles, citing Sullinger’s desire to polish his game a little more before taking it to the pros. Ohio State coach Thad Matta echoed that opinion, saying publicly that Sullinger enjoys college and “knows he has some work to do” before making himself eligible for the draft.

But there’s also the idea of the NBA paycheck. It often outweighs the need to further develop your skills for free as a collegian. For guys like Sullinger, skipping the draft is like being handed a winning lottery ticket — then holding on to it for a year and hoping it doesn’t get lost.

Or what if Ohio State, the No. 1 team in the nation, wins the NCAA championship? Would Sullinger really want to pass up a year of making millions to try to win another title in college?

Perhaps. After all, Joakim Noah, Al Horford and those other first-round picks did it earlier this decade while at Florida. They all avoided injury, and most improved their draft position in the process. That is something Sullinger will certainly consider.

What may help sway Sullinger’s decision is a potential lockout imposed by NBA owners this summer. The result would be a work stoppage — meaning Sullinger (and everyone else) would not play and would not get paid. In that scenario, why not go back to school?

Of course, complicating all of this is the fact that a lockout wouldn’t take place until a few weeks after the late-June draft. Truly, it’s all one giant unknown.

Scouting Sully

What is equally unsolved is where, exactly, Sullinger might fall in the draft.

This much we do know: He’s big (280 pounds), wide and skilled. Sort of like a shorter Tim Duncan, only with a derriere.

In fact, one NBA agent said if Sullinger measured at 6-foot-11, he would be the No. 1 pick, no questions asked. Instead, Sullinger is closer to 6-8 in his stocking feet.

Either way, there is no denying the young man already understands how to use his wide frame to create space for shots and clear space underneath the backboard for rebounds. He is very strong and often wears down opposing big men near the basket, finishing well around the rim with either hand. On top of all that, Sullinger is an intelligent passer with a solid shooting touch from 12 to 18 feet.

Now for a few reservations.

Sullinger is far from an “elite” athlete, particularly at the NBA level. He is so-so at running the floor and occasionally struggles with longer and more athletic defenders. There are also some questions about his conditioning, as he’s not exactly a rock-solid 280.

As for character, Sullinger has a reputation as a great kid with a good head on his shoulders. He wants to improve and is said to take advice and coaching very well. Basically, it would be hard to find a more down-to-earth future NBA lottery pick. And we’re talking about a draft that could be full of them.

Add all that up and what does it mean?

The answer is not a whole lot. Right now, there is very little of which to be certain — regarding the draft, the potential lockout and prospects like Sullinger. Basically, it’s a story that won’t really be accurately written until we hear more from NBA owners and players in the summer, as well as from Sullinger and Ohio State in the NCAA tournament.