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2012 NBA Draft: Jared Sullinger's Back Problems


Ohio State's Jared Sullinger started the draft build-up as an outside top-5 NBA draft candidate, on the basis of the phenomenal scoring and rebounding ability he showed during his two years in college. But over the past month, he's been on a steady downward slide.

Rumors circulated that Sullinger would fail to impress at the combine and at subsequent workouts, a prediction that came to fruition when the release of combine data coincided with numerous mocks sliding him down (something I very much disagreed with a couple weeks ago). Then came reports that some NBA doctors had "red-flagged" him for back problems. His agent and father immediately issued statements, but even that level of vagueness (which really hasn't been clarified since, it should be said) was enough to do significant damage in the eyes of many GMs.

In recent days, we've seen reports that both Golden State and Detroit won't consider Sullinger because of his back. In fact, numerous mocks have Sullinger out of the lottery entirely, and the Detroit Free Press tweeted yesterday that the Pistons would be interested in "trading into the late first round" to acquire him. And so here we are. Where a couple weeks ago, many Hornets fans (including me) had their fingers crossed that Sully might drop to 10, he inexplicably feels a like a reach pick at 10 now.

Chronologically, here's what we "know" about Sullinger's health:

Sullinger's back "red-flagged"

Chad Ford, ESPN, June 18th:

"Just filed to ESPN: Sources: Jared Sullinger medically red-flagged by some NBA doctors for back issues"

Sullinger's agent disputes red-flag

David Falk via Sam Amick, June 18th:

"Jared has consulted with one of the foremost specialists of backs and spines, who has vast experience treating professional athletes. He has explained to us that Jared had extremely tight hamstrings that became tight because he had suffered an injury - that I don't think he was aware of - to his hamstring. He needs to maintain a vigilance with his flexibility. And if he does that, and keeps his weight at an appropriate level, then he should have absolutely no problems over the next 15 years."

Previous Hamstring Issue Cited

Aran Smith, NBADraftNet, June 19th:

"On Sullinger back report: While in Treviso an NBA scout told me doctors said they had found a hamstring injury from 3 years earlier that never healed properly that was causing the back problems for Sullinger."

Current Bulging Disk Issue Cited

Steve Kyler, HoopsWorld, June 20th:

"Jared Sullinger’s back is "not that bad" according to team source that’s considering him. Source said Sullinger back will likely require surgery, but it totally fixable... have to weigh his value if he misses a year. The source said if you evaluated all the players in the NBA, more than not would have something similar.. bulging discs are common."

Red-flag not universal

Bob Finnan, News-Herald, June 24th:

"Ohio State forward/center Jared Sullinger (6-9, 268) appears to be dropping like a lead balloon. His back has been red-flagged by the NBA, an assertion disputed by his agent. According to one NBA team, which examined Sullinger at the NBA draft combine, it said his back wasn't that serious.

The team said it would "yellow flag" his back, instead of red flagging it."

NBA Projects Sullinger out of Lottery

Stu Jackson, NBA, June 25th:

"He's more likely to go in the teens or in the 20s. We continue to have contact with teams, but at this late date we don't anticipate inviting him [to the NBA draft lottery green room]."


Based on the progression of news and our previous knowledge of Sullinger's injury history, it appears that an old, possibly undiagnosed/untreated hamstring issue eventually culminated in a (possible) bulging disk in Sullinger's back. Sullinger's well documented weight issues likely haven't helped with the disk. Depending on who you talk to, this is the most common NBA ailment in the universe or necessitates that no team in at least the top-27 even dream of drafting Sullinger.

I'm still a big Sullinger fan on account of him being an outstanding college performer, but at this point, who really knows.