Sullinger watched with a mixture of disbelief and amusement as his name tumbled down the draft board on Thursday. As NBA teams ran away and hid after the league issued a red flag over the purported medical issues with his back, Sullinger claimed he was unconcerned. All the former Ohio State standout wanted was an opportunity, and whoever chose him would be getting a hard-working power forward who was once projected as a top-five draft pick.
Sullinger was beaming Monday, when he made his first appearance as a member of the Celtics, the team that has provided him with that opportunity. Declaring unequivocally that he does not have back problems, Sullinger insisted he was not disappointed after falling all the way to pick No. 21.
"If you consider me coming to the Boston Celtics a drop, then I'd do it all over again without hesitation," Sullinger said at the Jackson/Mann School, where he was introduced with fellow draft picks Fab Melo and Kris Joseph.
Sullinger, 20, has been doubted before. Despite 30-rebound performances in high school and AAU, he entered Ohio State amid doubts whether he could run and jump with college athletes. He proceeded to lead the Buckeyes to the Final Four last season and was named First Team All-Big Ten as a freshman and sophomore.
In addition to any health issues Sullinger does or does not have, scouts are also dubious as to whether the 6-foot-9 power forward can contend with longer, higher-jumping big men in the NBA. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge expressed no reservations about that on Monday. Ainge in fact went one step farther, indicating that Sullinger would play some center for the Celtics.
"I think there's not much difference between the power forward and center positions in the NBA," Ainge said. "Jared is smart, he's versatile and he's strong. I think as he matures and gets stronger and he gains more knowledge of the NBA game, he'll be versatile enough to play both positions. He rebounds well enough to be a center and I think he has the ability to play both positions eventually, for sure."
Sullinger may not be very tall or have an exceptionally long reach for his size, but he is big. At 280 pounds, he filled out his blue-plaid tan suit, whereas the 7-foot Melo, who was criticized for being overweight early in his career at Syracuse, looked slim beneath his blue dress shirt.
Playing center could be a way for Sullinger to crack Boston's rotation sooner rather than later. Kevin Garnett dislikes playing center, and sliding Garnett over to power forward while Sullinger mans the five could appease the Big Ticket, even if it merely is a cosmetic change. The Celtics see Melo as the better long-term solution in the middle, but he could be too raw to trust right away. Sullinger might be undersized, but he plays his positioning well and the league does not have the depth of skilled 7-footers it boasted 15 years ago.
The position might be different and his draft position was lower than he anticipated, but Sullinger does not seem concerned. His fall may not have hurt him, but he is out to cause some pain for the teams that passed on him.
Photo via Facebook/Jared Sullinger