Ohio State power forward Jared Sullinger’s draft stock is going to take a big hit.
The Buckeyes big man underwent a series of medical tests at the NBA draft combine a week ago and has been red flagged by the leagues doctors due to concerns with lingering back problems according to sources of ESPN.com’s Chad Ford.
Word through the grapevine is that doctors for each NBA team were able to check Sullinger’s files and advised their respective front office staffs to avoid drafting him in the first round because there is a chance Sullinger’s back issues could shorten his career.
Should the Hawks swoop in and snatch up Sullinger if he’s there when Atlanta selects No. 23 overall in this month’s upcoming rookie draft?
Satch Sullinger, Jared’s father, doesn’t believe his son’s issues are worth stressing:
“He had a bulging area that was due to his hamstring and quads being so tight,” Satch Sullinger told ESPN.com senior college basketball writer Andy Katz in a phone call Monday afternoon. “It pulled on his hip flexor and he’s been taking care of it to loosen it. You can call it a red flag if you want. But it’s tight hamstring and tight quads. He’s been to doctors, he’s doing yoga and deep tissue massage. The flexibility is helping take the pressure off the area.
“We’ve got nothing to hide. At this stage it’s all about what they can’t do. Jared is a skilled player. A two-time All-American. He can play.”
Sullinger was slated to be a top-10 pick according to Ford’s latest mock draft, but his stock may now decrease significantly because of the test results.
Ford pointed out a current NBA player who was in a very similar situation not too long ago that Sullinger finds himself in now:
“In 2009, Pittsburgh’s DeJuan Blair was also red flagged by the NBA when medical tests at the NBA combine revealed he didn’t have ACL’s in either knee. At the time Blair was projected as a late lottery pick. He slid all the way out of the first round.”
In that draft three years ago, Blair was selected with the 7th pick in the 2rd round (39th overall) by the San Antonio Spurs after helping his Pittsburgh Panthers reach the Elite Eight stage of the 2009 NCAA tournament.
This past NCAA tournament, Sullinger helped his Buckeyes reach the Final Four and just narrowly missed reaching the championship game after falling to Kansas 64-62 in heartbreaking fashion.
We saw this past season that Atlanta’s front line depth was very limited after all-star center Al Horford missed practically the entire season with an injury, and the Hawks could certainly use a player of Sullinger’s caliber.
The Buckeye big man is a strong and physical player with high basketball I.Q. who knows how to use his huge lower body to get him deep positioning in the paint. On top of being a dominant rebounder and extremely tough competitor, Sullinger is also a very skilled offensive threat — he can back you down in the post and turn over either shoulder or just spot you up facing the basket and drain a contested 15-footer with ease.
The knock on Sullinger is that he plays below the rim and is a bit undersized to play the power forward position — but I see it a different way. He seems like he can be a nice compliment to Horford coming off the bench in a limited role. Both big’s are smart, competitive, and gritty — what Sullinger lacks on the defensive end, he makes up for in the offensive and rebounding game.
If Sullinger’s troubling back issues keep him from being a lottery pick, the Hawks shouldn’t think twice if he’s still sitting there when the No. 23 pick rolls around.