I might get a lot of flack for this. But I am going to say it: the Cavs would be making a big mistake if they drafted Ohio State's Jared Sullinger with their first round pick in the NBA Draft.
Sullinger is a terrific player. Don't get me wrong. He is having a spectacular freshman season and is the star of arguably the nation's best team. But the Cavs don't need him. They already have a player very similar to Sullinger, and one that had a very similar freshman season. His name is J.J. Hickson.
Fans' opinions on Hickson are split. His work ethic has been suspect in the past, and he's been the subject of trade rumors since last season. But he's been a man possessed lately. In his last 10 games, J.J. is averaging 13.4 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. The 6'9", 242 lb power forward is extremely athletic, runs the floor well, and has really improved his mid-range game.
His game is almost a carbon copy of Sullinger's. So I decided to take a look at Hickson's college game to investigate the comparison further. And the results surprised me.
Sullinger: 30.3 MPG, 17.8 PPG, 10.0 REB, 1.4 AST, 1.4 TO, .5 BLK, 57.6% FG, 73% FT
Hickson: 28.7 MPG, 14.8 PPG, 8.5 REB, 1.0 AST, 2.7 TO, 1.5 BLK, 59.1% FG, 68% FT
Obviously Sullinger is scoring and rebounding a bit more, and Hickson turned the ball over too much, but the stat lines are very similar.
And you can't discount the team around each player in college. Hickson's team was abysmal. Clevelanders may not have seen much of N.C. State in college because he played in the ACC and wasn't a Big Ten guy. But as a Wake Forest student at the time, I saw probably 15-20 Wolfpack games. Just look at this team: Gavin Grant, Courtney Fells, Brandon Costner, Farnold Degand, Ben McCauley, Javier Gonzalez. Not exactly All-ACC level. It doesn't compare in the slightest to the Buckeyes' extremely gifted roster of William Buford, David Lighty, Jon Diebler, Deshaun Thomas, Aaron Craft and Dallas Lauderdale. It's apples to oranges.
Not to mention Hickson was coached by one of the worst coaches in the ACC, if not all of college basketball, in Sidney Lowe. There's a reason one of the biggest knocks on Hickson was that he wasn't "NBA-ready." Lowe hasn't exactly improved his players from day one to the day they leave N.C. State.
Sullinger, on the other hand, has one of the top tier coaches in Thad Matta. Matta makes sure his players are prepared, have high basketball IQs and improve every day. Just look at Evan Turner's career at OSU. Or the improvements David Lighty has made since he stepped foot on campus.
So why are so many Cavs fans so quick to call for Sullinger? Well, he's a big guy who works well in the paint, and he's on an undefeated team in the NCAA. And he's in the conversation for Player of the Year. That doesn't hurt. But of course, there's the Ohio State bias as well. Cleveland fans have a real tendency to rally around local or Ohio players, and I really believe that skews their impressions of a player.
But does Sullinger really fit a need? In my opinion, no. Hickson is still developing. He has made great strides from last year to this season. And he is finally getting the chance to play. He was buried by Mike Brown. His attitude might have had something to do with it, but the talent level is there. The more minutes Hickson plays, the better he'll be. And he's only 22.
The Cavs have much more glaring weaknesses than the 4 position. They have a black hole at SF, have no true center and need better guard play. Hickson is the same type of player as Sullinger and is even more athletic. The bottom line is, JJ deserves the chance to be the future of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Sullinger should be holding up another team's uniform come draft day.