Aaron Craft, 6-foot-1 point guard, Ohio State
2013-14 stats: 9.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 4.7 APG, 2.5 SPG, .473 FG%, .741 FT%
Craft was a bit of a polarizing player over the course of his four-year college career, earning praise for his relentless hustle, on-court leadership and defensive prowess, yet drawing derision from opposing fans. Remarkably consistent, Craft never developed into much of a scoring threat, but remained focused on being a floor general and disruptive defender. Highly regarded for his character and work ethic, Craft clearly understands his niche on the court and while that might not translate into an opportunity to continue playing basketball at the NBA level, nobody will ever accuse him of not maximizing his potential.
Career highlights: The former highly-school quarterback’s football instincts were exemplified on the hardwood from the start of his tenure at Ohio State, as his tenacity allowed him to carve out a spot in the rotation and eventually led to Big Ten all-freshman team accolades, highlighted by season-highs of 19 points, 15 assists and seven steals in separate contests on a team led by AAU teammate Jared Sullinger. As a sophomore starter, Craft set a school record for steals in a season and won the league’s defensive player of the year award, while helping to lead the Buckeyes to the Final Four. His junior year, Craft scored a career-high 10 points per game—including a career-high 21-point performance in a win over Michigan State—broke the school’s record for career steals and was named first-team all-conference before being upset by Wichita State in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament. Craft capped off his career by setting Ohio State’s career assist mark and again being named the conference’s top defender.
Strengths: Craft’s biggest asset is his determined, physical on-the-ball defense. Capable of harassing opposing ballhandlers for 94 feet, Craft’s active hands frequently lead to turnovers and his individual effort not only sets the tone for his teammates, but forces opposing coaches to make adjustments. On the other side of the ball, Craft is a low-turnover point guard who isn’t prone to making risky plays. His unselfish, mistake-free style was effective at the college level and he developed a reputation of being unafraid to make big plays, despite not being a gifted scorer.
Weaknesses: While basketball purists celebrate Craft’s positive traits, the fact that he hasn’t proven capable of being a high-level scoring threat can’t be ignored. His actual shooting percentages aren’t bad and the floor general showed that on occasion, he could erupt for big games. But as a whole, Craft would be considered an offensive liability as a professional, as defenders can afford to sag off him as a shooter and he doesn’t possess the requisite size or athleticism to finish over NBA big men in the paint. Being frank, as much as he’s been lauded for his defensive attributes, the height and explosiveness of the type of point guard that dominates today’s professional game mitigates much of Craft’s strong suit.
Draft projection: More than likely, Craft will go undrafted, though it isn’t out of the question that the right front office loves his character and pre-draft workout enough to take a chance on him late in the second round. Regardless, he will have to earn his keep every step of the way, beginning in summer league and then having to survive training camp. With the talent at his position, including veteran free agents and other draft prospects, it’s hard to imagine Craft ending up on an NBA roster next season. He should be able to have a very productive career at the highest level overseas and perhaps if he develops into a more capable scoring threat or simply plays at such a high level that his value is reconsidered, Craft could emerge as a change-of-pace defensive role player, a la a less talented version of Houston Rockets point guard Patrick Beverley, though the Chicago native is much more athletically gifted and talented as a scorer.