Skim through enough NBA draft coverage on Jared Sullinger these days and it's easy to forget the Ohio State big man was once considered a surefire top-five pick.
Sullinger has plummeted into the late teens and early 20s in most mock drafts, a stunning drop caused by concerns about his lack of athleticism, suspect conditioning and ailing back. He was not even among the 14 prospects who received an invitation to attend the draft at the Prudential Center in Newark.
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There's no question selecting Sullinger in the top 10 would be a risk because of the red flags about his health; however, passing him up in the middle of the first round might be an even bigger mistake. For all the talk about the concerns regarding Sullinger, it seems teams are forgetting the 6-foot-9 forward's many positive qualities.
He averaged 17.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game last season and shot over 50 percent in both his collegiate seasons. He boasts the most polished back-to-the-basket moves in college basketball last season. And by all accounts, he's a cerebral player, a deft passer and an excellent teammate.
Is that combination enough to draft Sullinger ahead of Anthony Davis or Thomas Robinson? Certainly not. But does it make him worthy of consideration alongside any other big man in the draft? To me it should, because none of the other big men come without considerable red flags themselves.
Andre Drummond may have NBA size and athleticism, but he also has zero low-post skills and questionable work habits. John Henson will be a terrific weakside shot blocker in the NBA, but does he do enough well offensively to make up for the fact that he'll be pushed around on the low block? And while Meyers Leonard's physical tools make him a rare and intriguing prospect, the 7-footer also was nowhere near the consistent interior scorer or rebounder Sullinger was in college.
There's a history of NBA general managers talking themselves out of players deemed injury risks only to regret it afterward.
In 2009, Pittsburgh's DeJuan Blair slid from the late lottery to the early second round because he had no ACLs in either knee. He played in all but three games the past three seasons and averaged 9.5 points and 5.5 rebounds as a starter for the Spurs last season. Danny Granger also was red-flagged before the draft and slid to 17th in the 2005 draft, but he's developed into an All-Star since then.
There's no guarantee Sullinger follows the same path, but GMs should be wary of making the same mistake again. If Sullinger falls out of the lottery, some teams may regret it.
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