Welcome to NBA draft week!
Last year at this time, we saw only one player from the Big Ten get his name called in the first round, JaJuan Johnson. Johnson played in only 36 games for the Boston Celtics his rookie season and did not see any minutes during the playoff run for Boston. On the other hand, four players got the call in the second round, including a strong rookie campaign for Jon Leuer with the Milwaukee Bucks.
This year, it’s a little different. There are two definite lottery picks from the Big Ten. Between Jared Sullinger and Meyers Leonard, the post moves and constant need of big men in the pros will allow both of them to hear David Stern echo their names on draft night on Thursday.
Leonard and Sullinger have had very different journeys from each other. Sullinger walked onto the campus of Ohio State with great expectations. Many believed that he was going to be the next great big man to come out of the university and solidify himself as a top-five pick. Through two seasons, Sullinger has yet to fully impress scouts and teams alike. Leonard was highly recruited out of the state of Illinois, but quickly jumped on the offer given by the Fighting Illini. Yet, he got select minutes in his first year at Champaign. After Mike Tisdale graduated, Leonard was finally about to show off his skills.
Meyers Leonard, 7’1" Sophomore, University of Illinois
The best thing that Leonard has to offer is that he is extremely confortable in his 7’1’’ frame and is able to take advantage of the talents that he possesses pretty easily. The giant from Illinois finished his sophomore year with almost 14 points per game and over eight rebounds per game. After playing sparsely in his freshman year, coach Bruce Weber had the confidence to have Leonard patrol the interior for the Fighting Illini.
Leonard was never the first, and rarely even the second option, for Illinois this past season, which has a lot of teams concerned going forth if they decide to use an early pick on him in this week’s draft. The center does not have a glaring flaw, but he has been inconsistent at times and he rarely shows tenacity when he plays.
He is a young sophomore; he turned 19 in February. Leonard is a quality defender at the center position and has the foot quickness necessary to compete in the NBA.
While getting a junior season under his belt at Illinois could have been the best option for Leonard, the change in the coaching staff and the chance that he would be picked in the lottery was something that is extremely hard to pass on.
Overall, his awareness, size, and athleticism will make Leonard at least a late-lottery pick and be a developmental player for a playoff fringe team.
In my mock draft that will be posted on Thursday, I have Leonard going to Golden State at seven. That’s the highest you’ll see Leonard in a mock draft. The Warriors are in a really ‘weird’ situation with the current roster that they have. Golden State could use another post player to go along with David Lee and Andrew Bogut, especially with the questionable health of Bogut. Leonard can get the necessary development behind the two veterans and could also excel in a defensive system set up by coach Mark Jackson.
Jared Sullinger, 6’9" Sophomore, Ohio State University
Sullinger would be a perfect draft prospect in the 1990’s. During that time in the NBA, players with similar body types (a la Charles Barkley) were able to bump and battle their way into the paint and dominate against competition. Now, those players rarely exist. Excessive contact can get players in foul trouble quickly. Also, the overall quickness in forwards in the NBA has dramatically increased.
Sullinger has been fairly consistent in his two years at Ohio State, averaging over 17 points and nine rebounds a game. He has shown determination as a Buckeye, dropping some necessary pounds and showing physicality in the post.
While Leonard should have stayed another year, Sullinger should have left a year sooner. His draft stock was fairly high last year, but Sullinger wanted to try and bring an NCAA Championship to Ohio State.
The reports coming from GMs this past week is that doctors see issues with Sullinger’s back. It’s not a total surprise since Sullinger missed a few games his sophomore year with back spasms. While Sullinger’s group is reporting this as no big deal, doctors say otherwise.
The biggest difference between Leonard and Sullinger is footwork. While Leonard has a great grasp on footwork in the post, Sullinger is very slow moving in the post and has the potential to really struggle getting his shot at the next level.
Even though Sullinger lacks good footwork, he still has a wide range of post moves. He also has a strong basketball IQ and has the capability to outmatch his opponent that way.
In the past month, Sullinger has quickly dropped down on everyone’s draft boards. He has not faired well in draft camps, and the added doctor’s red flag won’t help Sullinger on draft night. He has the chance of falling down quickly on Thursday. In my mock draft, I have Sullinger dropping down to Minnesota at pick 19. The Timberwolves could add another post player like Sullinger. Minnesota has a lot of post presence that takes jumpshots, so adding a physical big guy would enhance the Timberwolve’s rotation.