The various SB Nation blogs lucky enough to have a player likely to be selected in the upcoming NBA Draft are doing features on those players and looking at their prospective pro careers. Today, we do our part by taking a look at Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas.
1. How is this prospect perceived on campus/how will he be remembered?
I think you'll be hard pressed to find an Ohio State fan who doesn't have good things to say about Deshaun. Not only was Thomas an integral part of multiple very good Ohio State teams, he clearly cared about his game and the team, demonstrating significant improvement each season he was on campus, transforming from shoot-first, shoot-second type player to somebody who was committed to developing skills in multiple facets of the game.
Thomas didn't waste any time making an impression on Buckeye fans. In his first game, the former McDonalds All-American dropped 24 points and 8 boards in 20 minutes in a win over a hapless North Carolina A&T squad. He quickly established himself as a scoring threat and strong rebounder in the early nonconfernce games, but his playing time waned as the Buckeyes hit the 2010-2011 Big Ten schedule. Over the season, he still averaged 7.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in 14 minutes for a very good Buckeye team, setting the stage for the coming seasons.
With increased playing time, Thomas began to bloom, bumping his averages to 15.9 ppg and 5.4 rebounds in 31.4 minutes, with a 52% Field Goal percentage. While the regular season had a few shining moments, like dropping 30 points on South Carolina, or a heroic 25-13 showing in a losing effort against Michigan, the real nadir of Thomas' sophomore season came in the NCAA tournament.
Despite sharing the court with Jared Sullinger, Thomas played the best player on the floor for most of the Big Dance. With the Buckeyes a little sluggish in their opening round game against Loyola (MD), Thomas dropped 31 and 12. In a 2nd round game against a tough Gonzaga squad, Thomas bullied his way to 18 and 7, then dominated Cincinnati in the Sweet 16 to 24 and 6. His Final Foul showing was less than ideal, plagued by foul trouble and tough defense to shoot 3-14 for only 9 points in a loss to Kansas, but Thomas' last month of the season won the confidence of Buckeye fans everywhere, and placed big expectations on his shoulders. Whiling missing the Final Four in his final season stung, no real Buckeye fan would begrudge Thomas for the result, given the number of times he carried the team all year.
Despite being the unquestioned first and second option on offense in a league full of dogged defenders, Thomas didn't disappoint, leading the Big Ten in scoring at 19.9 ppg, while also adding 5.9 rebounds. Never scoring less than 14 in a game, Thomas morphed into a player who could attack the basket, set up his teammates, and will a team with (to put it charitably) lesser offensive weapons to an Elite Eight berth.
2. What anecdote or story best typifies his time at your school?
Thomas blowing up during the 2011-2012 NCAAs certainly won him a lot of deserved praise, but there were a lot of electrifying moments during his senior year campaign as well. There was the 70-44 win over Nebraska, where Thomas singlehandedly outscored the Cornhuskers in the first half, 20-17. There was the dramatic road victory against Indiana near the end of the season, a game the Buckeyes absolutely had to win, where Thomas' added a key 18 points. The "Deshaun Thomas" game that I remember the most though, was a 59-56 loss at Michigan State on 1/19.
Thomas was electric, dropping 28 points on a very strong Michigan State squad on 50% shooting, including 6 three pointers. He got absolutely no help from the rest of the team though, as the next leading scorer added a paltry 6 points. Thomas made every single big play and big shot to keep the Buckeyes in the game down the stretch, but an ill-fated Shannon Scott three pointer missed badly, letting the Spartans escape. That was a bit of a microcosm of last season for Thomas and the Buckeyes. Deshaun could score and score and put the team on his back, but some nights, there just wasn't enough help for the Buckeyes to take home the big prize.
3. What parts of the draft evaluation coverage about the prospect do you think is wrong or missing?
I honestly think most of the coverage has been fair. Thomas is touted as a possible fringe 1st rounder/early 2nd rounder, and that feels about right. Deshaun's ability to get buckets has not been denied, and questions about his ability to do other things at an NBA level also appear to be fair, especially in regards to his defense.
Several profiles seem to be down on Thomas' rebounding ability (Draft Express had him last in the top 100 college PFs), but I can't help but think part of this was because of the massive offensive load he needed to carry last season, which might have led to him conserving some energy that might have gone towards the defensive glass. I don't think that Thomas has the athleticism necessary to be a very good NBA rebounder, but given his work ethic, NBA coaching, and the freedom from primary scoring responsibilities, I think he could at least be competent.
4. What will fans of the NBA love and/or hate about this prospect?
The big red flag with DT is his size. At 6-7, he's too small to really guard NBA power forwards well, and he doesn't have the foot speed to gain separation or stay with NBA small forwards. Teams are going to have to be creative in how they "hide" Deshaun on the floor, or he could get picked on.
The guy can catch and shoot very well, is a solid free throw shooter, and can even efficiently finish near the paint despite not being a huge guy. That sort of offensive skill set could work out well as a complementary bench player, a situation perhaps more akin to the Buckeyes during Thomas' first two OSU seasons.
5. Anything else you want to share about him?
Those expecting even a poor man's Kevin Durant are going to be disappointed, but given the right situation, I can certainly see DT being a productive NBA player, particularly as a floor-spacer off the bench. And then there's Deshaun the person. That we might miss most of all.
As long as teams and fanbases are honest with themselves about expectations for DT, I think the odds are good you'll like what you end up with. We certainly did.