Posted: 12:00 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, 2013
By Matt Brown
Before the season, we knew that Aaron Craft had the potential to be one of the greatest lock down individual defenders in the country. We also knew he could rebound well for his size, was fearless, and smart (did you guys hear he wants to be a doctor???). We also knew that his jumper was unreliable (to put it charitably), and his team might need him to be a little more aggressive shooting the ball. What we didn't know was how everything was going to fit together. Let's take a look at how it worked out.
10.0 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 4.6 APG, 34.1 Minutes, 2.1 Steals per Game, 1.9 TO .417 FG %
The more recent memory of Craft's no..no...no...nononoNO.....YES dagger over Iowa State may be a candidate, but Craft did fall apart a little in the second half before his heroics. Perhaps the most impressive offensive showing game in Ohio State's first game of the season, where Craft burried 5 threes en route to a 20 point, 7 assist showing in a win over Albany, leading fans everywhere to drool over the possibility of that elusive, dynamite secondary scorer.
Craft was also excellent in both late season victories over Michigan State, with the Bucks' 68-60 win on 2/24 perhaps the most impressive, given how badly OSU needed a win and how Deshaun Thomas was struggling a little. Craft added 21 points and 6 dimes in a winning effort.
You could technically point to some rather underwhelming box scores against early season foes, like Craft's scoreless performance (0-4 from the field) against Savannah State, or a 4 point effort on 2-9 shooting against Northern Kentucky, but those games were of little consequence, and Craft's scoring output had little to do with the ultimate outcome of the game.
That wasn't the case all season. The most glaring example was the Duke game, where Craft's poor shooting and high volume (3-15) arguably took Ohio State out of a close game (they lost 73-68). Craft wasn't a whole lot better against Kansas (7 points on 2-9 shooting, 4 turnovers, 4 fouls), or in the season capping loss against Wichita State (2-12, 9 points, 4 fouls, although with 7 boards).
Let's get the worst stuff out of the way first. Craft's offensive efficiency regressed as he was forced to become a more high volume shooter. His three-pointer wasn't very effective (30%), and I think he unofficially led the team in "ugly threes". While he managed to develop into more of a dependable scorer later in the season as he found more success taking the ball to the basket, his mid range and long range games remained suspect, at best. Coupled with an occasional tendency towards "hero ball" , Craft's cascade of bricks did not bode well for Buckeye success.
That's the bad news. The good news is that Aaron Craft did just about everything else well, or even spectacularly. Craft's disruptive ability as an on-ball defender is nearly unparalleled in current college basketball, rosy cheeks or not. Two steals a game is nothing to sneeze at, but Craft was also excellent at making other ballhandlers uncomfortable, pressuring guards into bad shots, and taking a team's best offensive weapon and rendering it ineffective, from Trey Burke to Lamont "MoMo" Jones.
Craft's passing and playmaking ability isn't NBA caliber yet, but it is still fine for a very good college point guard, and he's shown strong rebounding ability for a 6-2 guard. His offensive game even grew as a little as Craft stopped settling for as many jumpers, and found ways to muscle to the basket for a higher percentage shot.
The bad news is that I suspect Craft may be a "he is who he is" type player. It's pretty unlikely that Craft will be able to correct his shooting motion and suddenly become a long range threat, or for him to alter his style of play to make himself more of a scorer. That's okay. Craft's defense and passing ability creates offensive of its own. A fan could hope for modest increases in shooting percentages in exchange for fewer shot attempts, as Ross, Thompson and Williams handle the load that Craft was forced to shoulder.
If Aaron Craft is one of your two best players, you are still going to be in most college basketball games. The question isn't so much whether Craft can change his game during the offseason, it's will the rest of the Buckeyes pick up enough slack to let Craft just be who he is. If that happens, the basketball Buckeyes should be right back in the mix where they were all season in 2012-2013.