NBA Draft 2012: Risky Sullinger Pick Will Pay off for Celtics

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystJune 30, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 31:  Jared Sullinger #0 of the Ohio State Buckeyes reacts after the Buckeyes lose to the Kansas Jayhawks 64-62 during the National Semifinal game of the 2012 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on March 31, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

After watching Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger tumble in the 2012 NBA draft Thursday, the Boston Celtics were faced with an important decision. Take a gamble on a talented player who received a medical red flag before the draft, or join the 20 teams ahead of them in passing on the first team All-American.

The Celtics rolled the dice and drafted Sullinger 21st overall, and that's a risk that could pay huge dividends down the line.

As recently as a couple of months ago, Sullinger, who averaged 17.6 points and 9.3 points a game en route to leading the Buckeyes to the Final Four a year ago, was widely considered a top 10 pick. However, pre-draft medical exams at the NBA draft combine revealed back issues that caused NBA GMs to have Greg Oden flashbacks and sent Sullinger's stock tumbling.

However, when it came time for the Celtics to pick twice in a row with the 21st and 22nd overall picks, the team decided to use the first of those selections on the 6'9" 265-pound Columbus, Ohio native.

Celtics assistant general manager Ryan McDonough acknowledged in an interview with The Boston Globe that Sullinger's back is indeed a concern, but at that point in the draft, the team felt the risk involved in drafting him was more than mitigated by the potential for a significant reward.

There were what you could term minor concerns with the back. But it wasn’t enough to deter us from taking him. We think if Jared were completely healthy he would be a top-10 pick. Our doctors and our basketball staff determined it was worth what we would consider to be a slight risk. Jared is one of the better rebounders in the country, and he’s also able to move away from the basket and make shots and that’s an area he’s improved in, I think, over the past few years.

If healthy, Sullinger not only provides the Celtics with a desperately needed infusion of youth in the frontcourt, but he also provides an accomplished low-post and excellent rebounding game. Sullinger also made great strides with his jump shot and face-up game during his time at Ohio State, even draining 40 percent of his three-point attempts last season.

There are some questions regarding Sullinger's athleticism in transition and length, but Sullinger is the same height as Zach Randolph of the Memphis Grizzlies and just a hair shorter than Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, who hasn't had much trouble hauling down rebounds in the NBA.

This isn't the first time in recent history that the Boston Celtics have watched a player they thought they had no real chance of landing fall into their laps. In 1998, Kansas forward Paul Pierce was believed by most to be a top-five pick, but questions about his work ethic and conditioning caused a draft-day slide that ended when the Celtics selected him 10th overall.

Pierce has gone on to score over 20,000 career points, make 10 All-Star appearances, and win an NBA championship for Boston, so I think it's safe to say that that one worked out OK for the Celtics.

All this isn't to say that Jared Sullinger is destined to become a perennial All-Star that will help lead the team to a championship. With that said, though, there have been no reports that claim that Sullinger's condition can't be managed through treatment.

I'm pretty sure NBA teams have people for that.

Given the relatively modest price the Boston Celtics paid for Jared Sullinger, it's hard not to see this pick as a win for the organization, and if concerns about his back turn out to be overblown, the gamble that the Celtics took on Thursday may be talked about a few years from now as the shrewdest move in the entire 2012 NBA draft.