If we step into the trusty DeLorean and go back to last year’s draft, we see Jared Sullinger – a potential top pick and a lock for the top three – making the decision to go back to school and play another year.
Many punters, including some on this site, heralded the move as a great decision, as he’d grown up as a basketballer and it would deliver him benefits in the long run.
Now returning to the present day, Sullinger is still essentially the same player he was a year ago.
He’s an All-American big man who can rebound, score in the paint and use his basketball IQ to offset his athleticism.
Predictably, his deficiencies of height, girth and explosive leaping have not really changed.
So where does he look like getting drafted now?
Present mock drafts have him going anywhere from 10th to 13th, probably not how he’d planned on this turning out.
So let’s address first the long-run benefit for Jared Sullinger.
If Jared is selected in this range he will have lost US$9m to US$16m on his rookie contract alone, after factoring in the strike-shortened season.
If he ends up having the kind of career where his body, rather than his ability, tells him to stop, then he’s given up one year of professional eligibility, worth anywhere up to circa US$20-25m.
What would you pay for one year of a free education?
I think a starting price of US$9m would be a little steep, myself.
Let us address the even more important issue of development. Has this experience made him a better NBA player?
The first problem for Sullinger, in becoming a better NBA player, is that a coach and general manager are far more likely to commit resources (complimentary players, court and coaching time) to ensure their top three pick pans out than a mid-lottery guy.
One ESPN analyst calls it the royal jelly concept, where players’ success can be as much due to the opportunity and encouragement they’re given as to their inherent ability.
Like a queen bee and worker bee starting out as the same larvae, it is the commitment of resources that determine their fates.
Even throwing that to one side, the fact remains that when Sullinger chose to go back to school he decided that he was going to play fewer minutes of basketball, against weaker opponents, with less practice time and an incentive-free environment.
All to ‘broaden his game’.
Sullinger played 1123 minutes this season, compared to the probable 1500 minutes he would have played in a strike-shortened NBA season.
The competition in which he played included – let us be generous – around 250 minutes against players who are likely to contribute to an NBA team.
In reality that 1123 minutes did little to prepare him for the athleticism, size and basketball IQ he will encounter in the NBA.
When practicing, he not only went up against players who will only see an NBA game from the comfort of stadium seating, but he was restricted to the practice time limits imposed by the NCAA.
All this time he was learning to play a style of game in which he was already proficient.
Which leads us to the last point: there was zero incentive for Ohio State to use those prescribed hours to try make Sullinger a better NBA player.
They relied so heavily on what he already does as a college player in order to get to the final four this year.
For players projected to go in the mid-lottery and later picks I can see the incentive to stay in school (though the ‘learning’ aspect is still superior in the NBA).
But for guys like Sullinger, I wonder how honest their coaches were with the costs and benefits.