I'm going to preface this post by saying the following things about Shannon Scott. First and foremost, he hasn't played great for a month. Scott has more taken more shots than he has scored points in eight of his last ten games. It looks like his mental state is in disarray. His decision-marking has alternated from brilliant to disastrous throughout the season – although it's been slightly better in conference play.
Do I think that Scott should see fewer minutes than the 28 per game that he's played this season? Yes. He'd probably be better around 20 minutes as a bench defender and backup point guard. But I don't think that will happen anytime soon, and I do think that Coach Thad Matta has a good reason for it. Scott is so effective on defense that it makes up for any of his offensive deficiencies – which have been partially overstated in my opinion.
Let's first go through and take a look at what makes him such a dynamic defensive guard, then look into his offense a bit more numerically.
It's not a secret that Scott is an excellent defensive player. He was All-Big Ten Defensive Team last season, as voted on by the coaches, and really gets after it on that end. However, due to Aaron Craft's presence next to him in the backcourt, I believe the media sometimes underrates him there. Scott toes the line between staying in front of his man with aggressive on-ball man defense and over-anxious ball-hawking as well as anyone in the country due to his tremendous lateral quickness. Then to top it off, his IQ on this end is amazing. Let's take a look at some examples of Scott playing excellent defense.
Pick and roll:
This isn't even a play where Scott gets credit for a turnover, but he should. For a smaller guy that needed to build strength coming into college, Scott has become excellent at fighting through screens and recovering to his man – something that Aaron Craft has undoubtedly helped him with. Here, Traevon Jackson gets the ball at the top of the key, and Nigel Hayes comes over and sets the screen. Scott goes under the screen as Hayes tries to leak into the midrange for a jumper. As Trey McDonald flashes forward on the screen, Scott simultaneously recovers quickly to his man, and also takes away the passing lane to Hayes at the elbow. Then, to top it off, Jackson has to pick up his dribble after McDonald contacts him (then recovers into nothingness) where to go because Scott has taken away every passing angle to the wide side of the floor. Once Jackson picks up his dribble, it's over for the Badgers. Scott gets right up in his grill, and forces the wide-angle pass towards half court. Except there's no one at half-court. Scott gets the Buckeyes an extra possession just by being active both with his hands and with his feet.
Here's an example of situations where Scott does get credited with a turnover, simply through excellent and intelligent off-ball defense.
Here is Scott guarding off ball on an in-bounds pass. He's matched up with the much taller Aaron White (this is because Ohio State likes to use Amir Williams to guard in-bounds passes. With Mike Gesell taking the ball out, Williams and Scott will be responsible for eventually switching back to their normal men). The play here is supposed to be an in-bounds pass to Devyn Marble, who will then wait until White comes across the play and sets a screen for Gesell off of the in-bounds pass for a three. Scott reads the play and sees the White screen. Knowing that he's going to be switching with Williams here anyway, he jumps the passing lane in between Gesell and Marble, and gets the steal starting the fast break.
More than anything though, Scott is an excellent help defender as a guard. Be it either in his normal rotation in order to defend a shooter or coming over for a double, Scott is superb at keeping himself both in position to return to his man, and creating turnovers for his team.
Here, Scott is matched up with Benny Parker at the top of the key. Terran Petteway gets a down screen to come up to the wing in order to get space off of Lenzelle Smith Jr. Scott comes over in help to cut down the driving lane. Once Smith recovers, Scott doesn't simply slide back over to his man. He smells blood once Petteway picks up his dribble, and doubles to the side where his man is, and realizes that Parker is the only possible pass to make. He forces the turnover, and Smith gets the ball ahead to him in order to start a fast break.
Here's another example of him helping, and a fantastic example of how he sees plays developing before they happen on defense:
Scott begins this sequence guarding Derrick Walton in the corner. Zak Irvin has the ball on the wing and is being guarded by LaQuinton Ross. Irvin makes the pass to Jon Horford, and then back cuts to the hoop, where there is a screen by Caris LeVert waiting for him. Scott sees this play developing the whole way. Before LeVert even makes contact with Ross, Scott leaves Walton and slides into the lane. He knows the reversal to Nik Stauskas is coming, meaning Stauskas would have to throw a long, high skip pass to Walton to even get it to him. You can even see him make the quick look to Stauskas to see where his eyes are. Scott gets into the lane and moves in front of Irvin, who goes up for the lay-up. Prior to the ball even getting over his chest Scott swipes it and starts going the other way.
Scott's basketball IQ on the defensive end is absolutely tremendous, and doesn't get nearly the publicity it deserves. He not only plays strong man-to-man defense, but he also forces turnovers at nearly a higher rate than anyone in the country. His 4.9% steal rate is eighth in the country, and first in the Big Ten by nearly 25% over the next best non-Ohio State player. His defensive rating is first in the Big Ten, and Ohio State is three points better per 100 possessions with Scott on the floor than their team's total rating (89.5 for the team total compared to 86.5 with Scott). That leads the team by nearly two points over the next best defensive rating, which belongs to Amir Williams – unsurprising given his importance to the interior defense.
But what about Shannon Scott's issues of late on the offensive end of things? Scott's offensive problems exist, but they may be slightly overstated. He hasn't shot well in conference play from distance, but that's really the only thing that's holding back his game. He's never had the highest offensive IQ, but Scott's turnover rate in conference play has dropped from 22% down to 18%. His assist rate has dropped from 25.7 to 22.1, but that's to be expected given the team's general struggles shooting the ball. Ohio State's field goal percentage as a team is down 2% in conference play, with Smith and Williams being the main culprits for why – along with Scott of course.
I'm also not entirely sure where the narrative that Scott can't finish around the rim came from, but it's patently incorrect. Scott is shooting 66.7% at the rim on slightly over two attempts per game. It's not a massive sample size, but it's also false to say he's been poor. Recently, I wrote about the top 13 draft eligible point guards for the upcoming NBA draft in June. Among those 13, the average percentage at the rim was 57%. Scott would have ranked third among that group, behind only Elfrid Payton of Louisiana-Lafayette and Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State. To try to paint him as poor at the rim is a complete fabrication.
For me, it's more a question of how Scott fits with this offensive configuration than anything. Scott's not quite the two-way player that Craft is yet, meaning the traditional point guard spot is taken and he's forced to play off-ball on offense more than he should. Given that, Scott's fit on this offense is rather precarious. It makes more sense to put Sam Thompson in because he helps the offensive spacing a lot more than Scott does. Because of Scott's inability to shoot, teams can pack the paint against him when he has the ball or when he gets open on the wing from behind the arc. While Thompson isn't the best shooter either, he does represent a slightly stronger threat from outside, as well as stronger off ball movement that leads to better offensive space (a post is coming on that eventually). Thompson is also a good defender in his own right, meaning it makes sense to play him more with the starting unit than Scott. If Scott can develop a jump shot this offseason, there is a very strong chance that he can become one of the top PGs in the Big Ten next season.
My guess on some of the Scott hate is that it comes from those upset that he's not Trey Burke, and hey I get it. Burke's the local kid who left for the rival and became national player of the year. But it's complete revisionist history to really think about it that way. Burke was a small three-star point guard until his final semester. Scott had a strong pedigree – and it's fair to question whether or not that pedigree led him to be overrated by scouting services, as his father was the first African-American player to play at North Carolina – along with superior athletic tools throughout their entire high school career. If Beilein could have recruited Scott, it stands to reason he would have done so at Burke's expense.
There's no reason to dislike Shannon Scott because he's not Trey Burke. It's time to get over that. Instead, appreciate Scott for what he is: a dynamic defensive talent that still has potential on offense, but a ways to go to get there.