Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE
Simply put, Ohio State is going to go as far as Deshaun Thomas takes them this year. He is their scorer, their playmaker, one of their preseason all-conference players, and the guy that stirs the drink.
I remember when a few of my hoophead buddies were trying to describe Thomas to me when he first joined the team. "Dude, you're going to love this guy, he plays basketball like you play NBA Jam, only without the ability to dunk from halfcourt or shoot fireballs". Not exactly a ringing endorsement, since I basically just mash the steal button and try to shoot every time the ball finds its way into my hands..."but thats okay, he MAKES those shots!" my buddies would reply. And dammit, he does.
Thomas has done a lot of maturing for Ohio State, moving from some sort of rich man's Nick Young, a guy who never met a shot he didn't like, into a more well-rounded, dynamic force. During the tournament, Deshaun really was Ohio State's best player, slapping 31 on Loyola in the first round, and a 24 and 6 on Cincinnati in the Sweet 16. He can go inside, outside, finish at the basket or bury you with jumpers, and sometimes, even play defense. He'll need to do all of those things if Ohio State is going to live up to their lofty preseason billing, and with his preseason All-Big Ten honors, it seems others think he has a great shot.
2011-2012 STATS: 31.4 MPG, 15.9 PPG, .34 3P%, .74FT%, 5.4RPG, .52FG%
Outlook for 2012: Deshaun doesn't have the benefit of another elite scorer like Sullinger, or even a Bufford to take some of the defensive pressure off...he's going to face the best defender every night. Matta and others have really praised his offseason work ethic though, saying he's lost weight, improved conditioning, and his ballhandling skills, all of which will be needed this year.
Thomas can unquestionably score. He's going to battle with Penn State's Tim Frazier for the Big Ten scoring title, and given both his abilities and OSU's lack of a second crunch time scoring option (for now anyway), he could easily average 20 a game. Thomas is going to play as a "big" or a wing, depending on the situation or Matta's lineup, and should take an even more active role defensively. We know Deshaun can score. His ability to do the little things will determine how great a player he can be.
Best Case Scenario: All that talk about working on little tweaks in his game bares fruit, as Thomas hits the season like a man on fire. He averages 20 points and 6.5 boards a game, drawing enough attention to let Thompson and Ross get comfortable in the offense, while still getting hot and shooting OSU into at least one win they have no business earning. Thomas also improves his three point shooting to around 38%, opening up the floor and forcing defenders to stay close to him all over the court. Despite drawing attention as a possible mid to 1st round draft pick, Thomas shocks NBA beat writers and stays for his senior year, as Craft and a slew of talented new recruits give the Bucks their best title shot since the Oden era.
Worst Case Scenario: Thomas is unable to adjust to the defensive swarms he faces every night. Without a reliable second option, Thomas is both physically drilled in conference play, forcing him to miss some time, and damaging his confidence when he returns. He also begins to force the issue sometimes, shooting OSU out of at least one winnable game, and finds himself costing through defense when his shot isn't falling. Thomas' scoring average hovers around 15, and without other shooters, the Buckeyes struggle to score all year and are upset in the second round. Thomas declares for the draft, and is picked up by the Bobcats in the second round, dooming him to NBA purgatory.