Aaron Craft has been synonymous with Ohio State basketball for the past four seasons. Whether you love him or hate him, it's impossible to separate the Buckeyes and the highly decorated Craft. His accomplishments are numerous:
- NABC National Defensive Player of the Year, 2014
- Two time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year (2012, 2014)
- Four time All-Big Ten Defensive Team (2011-14)
- Three time All-Big Ten (1st: 2013, 2nd: 2014, 3rd: 2012)
- Big Ten Conference Tournament MVP, 2013
- All-time Big Ten Leader in steals (13th all-time in NCAA history)
- Fifth all-time Big Ten in assists (Ohio State all-time leader)
While a lot of these are mostly career accomplishments based on the fact that Craft was in college for
six, no wait, seven, hold on, we're being told four years, it's worth exploring how his final season ended up.
2012-13 Season Stats: 10 points, 4.6 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 2.1 steals per game.
2013-14 Season Stats: 9.8 points, 4.7 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 2.5 steals per game.
Preseason Outlook: Given that we'd become accustomed to what Craft had brought the Buckeyes over the course of the last decade, Ian Cuevas had hoped that Craft would improve in small ways over the offseason before his senior season:
The 6'2, 195-pound Craft has had a tremendous amount of success in his time at Ohio State, but there's little doubt that he wants to go out with a bang in his final season. Whether or not he'll continue playing (whether in the NBA or not) isn't a concern to him right now. He's focused on the season, and getting better, as he took it upon himself to try and improve his shooting by working with former Buckeye assistant coach Chris Jent and current assistant Greg Paulus in the off-season.
Best Games: Craft's best game of the season undoubtedly came against Iowa in Iowa City on February 4th. He scored 17 points, dished out six assists, grabbed three rebounds, and nabbed six steals on top of holding All-Big Ten performer Devyn Marble to 10 points on 4-11 shooting. It was one of those games where no one could even complain about Dan Dakich's continual overzealous praise of Craft from the sidelines as he called the game. It's also worth mentioning that Craft was Ohio State's best player against Dayton in the NCAA Tournament despite missing the final buzzer beater that called a halt to his storied career.
Worst Games: The good thing about Craft is that you could always count on him to affect the game. But on nights where his shooting eluded him, it became questionable whether or not he was actually providing a positive contribution to the Buckeyes. Games like his 2-11 performance at Indiana, or his combined 4-13 shooting in two games against Minnesota, or his rough game against Michigan in the regular season showed that he won't be remembered as one of the best players Ohio State has ever had. He simply had too much on his plate offensively at times this year, and the team suffered because of it.
The Skinny: Craft did exactly what should have been reasonably expected of him this season and then some. In reality, he's nothing more than an elite role player that can play high minutes and annoy opponents. His role this season was to be an initiator of offense, and that's something he simply can't do consistently. However, it's worth mentioning that I did notice some improvement in Craft's ability to get to the rim this season. The "craftiness" (I hate myself for that, too) that he displayed and the quickness of his first step allowed him to blow by defenders and finish at a solid rate at the rim, 61%. The defense was obviously stupendous. He probably was not the best defensive player in the country, but there probably shouldn't be any complaints over his awards.
The Prognosis: I'm pretty sure Craft's career is finally over with the Buckeyes, unless the NCAA gives him a reprieve so that Dakich can continue existing -- as opposed to spontaneously combusting -- in this crazy world we call earth. I'll probably write something longer about Craft's NBA potential later on in the summer before the draft, but I think I can give a quick synopsis of where I see this going. Craft is going to sneak up on people with his athleticism I think. As in, he might have one of the best lane agility scores in the draft. His ability to change direction is superb, and his first step actually is pretty strong. As with most things with him, it's going to come down to his ability to shoot.
If he can actually completely revamp his shot (for what will seem like the umpteenth time in his career -- Craft was hilariously a 37% three point shooter over his first two years, then decided to remake his shot and it failed spectacularly) and become better than a non-threat from long range, he could stick in the NBA. This year was big for his defense: with the new, more strict hand check rules put into place, Craft was able to defend and put to bed the notion that he can only defend by hand checking (he only fouled out once in 35 games of 34 minutes per).
If Matthew Dellavedova can make the NBA, then Aaron Craft has a shot to stick. But it's going to come down to just that: the shot.