PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 17: Jared Sullinger #0 of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates on the bench late in the first half against the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the third round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Consol Energy Center on March 17, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
The latest ESPN mock draft has the Detroit Pistons drafting Jared Sullinger at number 8 in the 2012 NBA Draft. Sullinger's draft stock has taken a hit after his Ohio State team lost to Kansas in the NCAA Final Four late last month. After returning for a sophomore season at Ohio State with the goal of a championship, the failure led Sullinger to declare for the NBA draft last week. ESPN suggests that the Pistons might select Sullinger to fill a hole next to Greg Monroe in the team's front line:
Analysis: The Pistons need a center. They could reach a little and bring in Tyler Zeller. Or they can be content with Greg Monroe at the center position and add Sullinger to the mix. Sully doesn't play above the rim, but he does rebound and has great hands. At this point, I think the Pistons would pass on trying to hit a home run and just get someone who could help a little.
The third version of ESPN's mock draft places Sullinger amidst a group of guards who have seen their value rise as we approach the 2012 draft. Point guards Damian Lillard and Kendall Marshall flank Jared Sullinger at 7th and 9th, respectively. Lillard is ranked lower by other draft news sources, sitting at 10th by NBADraft.net and 13th by DraftExpress. If Lillard's stock does indeed rise, it could be a boon for the Pistons should they wind up with the 8th pick in June. An over-valued Lillard could lead teams to pass on big prospects like Jared Sullinger, making another nice option fall into Detroit's draft position.
The question that fans (and Detroit's front office) will ask themselves-- is Jared Sullinger the right fit next to Greg Monroe? Clearly, the Pistons need a large force in the frontcourt that can block shots and patrol the paint on the defensive end. Monroe has shown that he can be a solid rebounder and offensive threat up front, but his weaknesses on defense have left a glaring hole in the paint. A guy like Sullinger largely duplicates both Monroe's strengths and his weaknesses, which makes the two an undesirable pairing.
If Sullinger is on the board at 8 and the Pistons have that pick, it'll still be difficult to pass on Sullinger. He is a tremendous offensive talent, entering the NBA with a refined and effective low-post toolkit. Given the rarity of skilled, low-post big men, doubling down on this type of player is a safe bet. Should Sullinger fulfill the expectations about him, the Pistons would have two players capable of demanding a double team on the court at once. If they can embrace Lawrence Frank's defensive game plan, their collective size could at least be serviceable on defense. While the Pistons would still need a defensive-minded, shot-blocking big man, the opportunities these two players would provide on offense could be nearly impossible for opposing teams to stop.
The best part about drafting Sullinger is that there's not a clear scenario where the Pistons could lose. If he's given the minutes to produce, it's likely that he would be a solid trade asset for one of the many teams that are in need of a low-post offense. A productive Jared Sullinger on a rookie-scale contract is trade market gold. If the lack of defense is too much to take for a Sullinger/Monroe pairing, Detroit could find plenty of value should they decide to break up that pairing.
Given that Detroit's greatest weakness this season is its offense, adding a guy like Sullinger would be a step in the right direction. Yet since Detroit's biggest need is size and defense up front, adding Sullinger would be the first step of many.