The long national nightmare for Buckeye Twitter is over, as the Spurs picked up Deshaun Thomas last night with the 58th pick in the draft. Not only does this set up Thomas with perhaps one of the most ideal NBA situations for him to develop his talents (i.e getting buckets), but it continued an impressive streak for the Ohio State Basketball program. In the Thad Matta era, the Buckeyes have had a player drafted in seven consecutive drafts. Sometimes those players were awesome (Mike Conley) and sometimes those players were just tall (Byron Mullens), but the point is, they're got a shot at the big show.
Can the Buckeyes extend that streak another year? From the looks of it, the odds are pretty good. While it's possible any number of Buckeyes could make the huge leap next season and be in the second round pick conversation (welllll maybe not Amedeo Della Valle), I think there are two prospects in particular that should be in the NBA Draft conversation next year.
Aaron Craft – PG (Senior)
The idea of Craft playing in the NBA seems to be particularly controversial on the internet, with some steadfastly insisting that his NBA chances are lower than any of our bloggers, while others seem to think he has "eight year career" written all over him. The truth as per usual, I suspect, is somewhere in the middle.
One thing that we do know is that Aaron Craft's defensive prowess is not just a product of his rosy-cheeks. He's proven on the court that he can frustrate NBA quality guards, and apparently was holding his own with Kyrie Irving one on one. Summer camps are summer camps and all, but if you can stay in front of Kyrie, you're going to be in the draft conversation.
Ohio State assistant coach Jeff Boals said that Craft would have been a late 1st, early 2nd round pick THIS YEAR had he gone out. Thaaaat feels a little hard to believe. In the most recent DraftExpress 2014 Mock Draft, Aaron Craft is listed as the 40th pick, which seems more realistic, although the 2014 draft projects to be significantly stronger than the 2013 one.
I wrote about Craft's NBA chances in a little more detail a few months ago. Several fans have tried to compare Craft to other "defense first" players who have had successful NBA careers, like Tony Allen, Bruce Bowen or Jason Kidd. I don't think those comparisons are really fair, since all three of those NBA players did one thing in college *significantly* better than Aaron Craft, and that's put the ball in the basket.
If Craft suddenly develops three-point range, a draft choice is pretty much a given, but I'm not sure how realistic that really is. Craft is smart enough, quick enough laterally, and a hard enough worker that if he is able to demonstrate that he can at least be efficient offensively, he's worth a flier on a mid 2nd round pick. If nothing else, having Craft swarm everybody in practice might make him attractive bench fodder. 2014 guess: mid-second rounder
LaQuinton Ross – SF (Junior)
Now that Deshaun Thomas is taking his talents (and ALL of the shots) to San Antonio, it's officially time for the LaQuinton show in Columbus.
We saw a little of what may be to come last year, when a light finally clicked with Ross, leading him to finally string together some consistent performances. Ross shot nearly 39% from three, hit 77% of his free throws, and with this size and first step, was tantalizingly close to the second scoring option the Buckeyes needed and craved last year. He'll get a chance to play more than 16 minutes a night this season, and really showcase his range and bucket-getting ability.
While Deshaun was more of a 4 playing in a 3's body, Ross is much more suited as a 3 or a 2, with a more perimeter oriented attack. This frees him from some of the size mismatches that Thomas will face in the NBA.
Ross does have plenty of issues that need addressing. He was a complete turnover machine last year, struggling with dribbling and decision making, and his defensive effort and awareness was questionable (to put it charitably) a lot, leaving Matta no choice but to keep him on the bench even when his offensive skills were badly needed. Another year of coaching and practice could do wonders to help him fill out the rest of his game.
If the Buckeyes are successful and Ross is able to display consistency (and the later should drive the former), Ross could have legitimate first round potential, not just at the back of the round, but near the middle. DraftExpress has Ross at #28 right now, and I could easily see him going 15 picks ahead of that, or 10 picks back. If we assume Ohio State contends for another Big Ten Title and plays into the second weekend of the NCAAs, Ross should be a legitimate first round pick. 2014 guess, first round, non-lotto.
Freshman guard Kam Williams is somebody who may, at some point, play in the NBA, but it feels like a stretch to guess about a player's prospects when their role on the team is hardly defined. That feels like a conversation best had several months from now.
Shannon Scott may have the pedigree and the athleticism to make an NBA roster, but he suffers from many of the same problems as Craft (i.e can't really shoot), and with a crowded backcourt, may not get enough PT to showcase himself enough for the draft. Scott's time to REALLY shine will probably have to wait until Craft graduates.
The other possible prospect is Amir Williams, and that's really only because of his size and shot blocking ability, and 6-11 shot blockers who are not stiffs are in short supply in the NBA. However, based on last season's performance, there is little evidence that Amir Williams is not, in fact, what he is. If Amir finally focuses mentally and completely taps into his potential, instead of vanishing in a barrage of fouls and failed box outs, it's possible he could be in that conversation...but I'm not willing to bet any money on it.
I will say this though. If we can talk about Amir Williams being a high second round pick with a straight face, Ohio State is going to have a damn good team next year.