Last year's NBA Draft marked the sixth-consecutive time at least one Ohio State player was drafted and the fifth time at least one of those was taken in the Top 24 picks of the draft's first round. Lest a monumental upset, the latter is all but certain to come to an end this evening. But there is one Buckeye with a very strong chance to keep the former streak going proudly.
Deshaun Thomas is a solid post-third year, free shooting small or power forward. At 6'7", 220 pounds with a 6'10" wingspan and an 8'8" reach standing, Thomas perhaps isn't your prototypical cornerstone scoring 3. What he does lack in perhaps completeness of his game, he somewhat makes up with a smooth scoring stroke and a knack for putting the ball in the hoop..and he's a far better commodity than he would've been had he left Columbus following any of his two previous seasons in the state capital.
Thomas headed to Columbus in the class of 2010 after having matriculated at Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana as well as on the AAU circuit with Indiana Elite. Thomas was a consensus 5-star power forward coming out of high school, and had the draft rules been what they once were, I think there's a strong chance you would've seen him head straight to the Association rather than take a detour in Columbus.
With committable offers from the likes of Indiana and Purdue and interest from Duke, Michigan State, and North Carolina, Thomas instead committed to Thad Matta's Buckeyes June 1st of 2007. And as alluded to earlier, from the moment he stepped on campus, the conventional wisdom was that this was going to be a one-and-done scenario. Early on his game was flawed, sure, but the aggressiveness and catch-and-shoot mentality was there and many expected if he got the minutes he wanted, that could result in potentially big scoring numbers. But those early minutes didn't come.
During Thomas' first year on campus, he was mostly relegated into a first scorer off the bench role. On a team with legitimate national title aspirations, Thomas was at times a liability. Sure he made nearly 48% of his shots, but his shot selection was maddening, and if the ball went anywhere near him, the only way it was leaving his hands was if it was launched at the basket. This culminated in Tank (or "Microwave" or whatever you wanted to call him) averaging just 14 minutes a game that first year.
But the starting opportunity came in year two after his resume (or lack there of) at the collegiate level failed to do much to help his NBA stock. Though he played only three minutes in the Buckeyes' heart breaking Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky the year prior, in 2011-2012, Thomas became a starter. The results came quickly: 15 point scoring outputs here, 23 point outputs there. Thomas was immediately a critical part of the Buckeyes' scoring output (and an essential cog along with Aaron Craft and Jared Sullinger).
Yeah, his game was still flawed – defense was a sink or swim proposition, and though his his three point range was perhaps better than it was when he arrived on campus, it wasn't what one would consider particularly strong for the college game – but he was light years better than he had been his freshman year.
Though he projected to be roughly a second round draft pick, there was still tons of whispers that Thomas could or perhaps even *would* be leaving Columbus early to pursue a career at the professional ranks. In fact, when Thomas announced he was coming back (directly because he wasn't projected to be a first rounder), there was a somewhat genuine sense of surprise, and ultimately celebration amongst Ohio State fans.
Thomas would go on to be "the guy" for Ohio State's offense in 2012-2013. With his minutes at a career high 35 per and his points up to nearly 20 per contest, the guy who led the Big Ten in scoring almost wire to wire was so important to Ohio State's offensive attack that on occasions where he was off, it often meant a near certainty that the Buckeyes were beatable. A few lingering concerns were still prevalent, however: his three point percentage hadn't gotten any better (.345 to a near identical .344), his overall field goal percentage dropped as the volume increased (.520 to .445), and his assist percentage remained just 8.6%, meaning that while he'd grown in terms of his selflessness within context of the overall offense, he was still putting shots up at an almost daunting rate.
Following the conclusion of his junior year, however, while we waited to see if Thomas would surprise everyone again and return for his senior season, the off the court Thomas took a step few knew he was capable of. Though Thomas had always been regarded as a intelligent, confident young man, his defense of Ohio State's so-called "non-money" sports' student athletes drew national attention, and with good reason. NBA fans fortunate enough to land Thomas should know they aren't just getting a very solid basketball player, but a great young person who should represent his team in the community just as well as he does in the arena.
But at the end of the day, NBA teams aren't drafting guys on character alone. They're acquiring the pieces to attempt to build a success NBA championship basketball team, and that's predicated almost entirely on basketball pedigree. The good news is that from about 20 feet in, on the offensive end of things, Deshaun Thomas is in the upper echelon of those at his position. He probably won't back guys down and score in the paint with much regularity, but if you leave him open, he'll make you pay.
The problems arise when you go back and look at Thomas' needed "areas of improvements" leaving high school:
- 3-point range
- Defensive presence
Those are all his biggest knocks going into his NBA career. Can focusing on basketball 100% of the time without the distractions of academic obligations remedy them? Maybe. In a sense though, Thomas is what he is. If he's a rotational bit player and you happen to be a good team with great players capable of creating open looks for good jump shooters, you're in luck. If you're a cellar dweller who needs all the firepower you can get, Thomas might not be the guy you're looking for.
But with the right coaching and Thomas' work ethic, crazier things have happened. Thomas is unlikely to ever be an NBA starter, and he'll probably never in earnest be praised for anything on the defensive end of things. But he can be a solid volume scorer in the right situation, and perhaps pull a Robert Horry or two when your team necessitates it the most.