- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Last week, when I was still frolicking in the kelly green countryside of my ancestors' homeland, Diamond updated you on the new-look Jared Sullinger. Sullinger, as you'll remember, is expanding his game. He's adding face-up moves, flashing more range on his jumper and, last but not least, trying to trim some meat off his massive frame in the hopes of improving his agility and movement in the open court.
This transition is being made with an eye on the NBA. After all, Sullinger lacks the size to play center at the next level, and he won't be able to bruise opponents under the basket at will in the Association. But, as Beyond the Arc's Mike Miller asked yesterday, could Sullinger's transition hurt his game in the short term? What if his new body makes him less effective?
So. About that playing style. Many players (like Charles Barkley) played better with a sizable rump, provided it didn’t impede their stamina. Given how productive Sullinger was last season (120.4 ORtg, 26.2 DR%) in a sizable chunk of minutes (78.9 %Min), a change might not be warranted.
Unless he’s gunning for more than just productivity. He’s adding a face-up game and working on his ball-handling, which means he’s shooting for a lofty pick in the 2012 NBA draft.
That’s worth shedding a few pounds.
Obviously, that last bit is the most salient: Sullinger's move is as much about his future as his present. But there's reason to believe a different Sullinger doesn't have to be any less effective. For example -- and of course, this was a small sample-size situation -- at the Nike Skills Camps in Chicago, Sullinger's expanded game was on full display. He hit 10-foot jumpers over defenders. He spaced the floor on screen and rolls. He even iced a wide-open three with the kind of touch and confidence few beefy collegiate centers could ever possess.
But perhaps the most encouraging thing was that he was able to do that without sacrificing much of what made him so powerful in the first place. He still got his looks on easy turnarounds in the lane. He still overpowered defenders and scored under the rim. He still grabbed rebounds. There didn't appear to be a one-for-one skill sacrifice at work here. Instead, Sullinger appeared better at more things. And how could that possibly be bad?
Still, the concerns are valid in the short term. Unlike last season, Ohio State won't have another body like Sullinger's (i.e. senior forward Dallas Lauderdale) to plug in the middle when Sully decides to step away from the rim. His main frontcourt partner will be sophomore forward DeShaun Thomas, who is more of a stretch small forward than a true back-to-the-basket banger. (And if Thomas's 2011 usage rate is any indication, Sullinger will have to be in position for a lot more offensive rebounds.)
He'll still have to own the paint. In 2011, the size of his posterior was one of the many reasons he was so effective at doing so. If that posterior shrinks, maybe Sullinger loses just a small edge off his interior attack. But if his current progress is any indication, he'll more than make up for it with an array of versatile, newfound skills. If I'm OSU coach Thad Matta, that's a tradeoff I'm willing to make.