Believe it or not, Aaron Craft will head into this season as one of the nation’s most polarizing players.
He embodies every single one of the clichés that sportswriters love to use — heady, gritty, tough, team-first, winner, etc., etc., etc. — but his individual numbers are far less impressive that the win-loss record of Ohio State when Craft is running the team.
Essentially, the argument is this: Craft is either a) the leader that carries the Buckeyes to win after win after win, or b) an overrated stiff that’s gotten a great reputation running the point for his more talented teammates.
Personally, I agree with the former. Outside of Marcus Smart and maybe Jahii Carson, there’s not a point guard in the country that I would rather have if I was starting a team. You can’t teach being a winner, you can’t teach being a leader and you can’t teach the desire to be arguably the best on-ball defender in the country.
Since Craft is a senior, the debate has now extended to his potential as a pro. There are some obvious physical limitations — Craft is not all that tall, he’s not all that explosive, he doesn’t have a massive wingspan — but the intangibles that he brings could, in theory, make him an ideal backup point guard. Kyrie Irving, who is arguably the best point guard in the world right now, was asked whether or not he thought Craft had a shot at the NBA. From Scout.com’s Ohio State site:
“Oh yeah. I believe so,” Irving said when asked if Craft could cut it in the NBA. “He’s a leader, he’s a tough defender, he’s been working on his offensive game. I’m interested to see the things that he’s learned from the camp and the things that he’s accomplished this summer in terms of his game and see the difference between his junior and senior year.
“He did well against the other campers. He played me tough and I know he learned a lot at the camp.”
The camp that Irving is referring to is the Nike Point Guard Academy that Craft attended in New Jersey this summer. I was there on the afternoon that they opened the doors to the media, and I can confirm Irving’s account that Craft played him tough. He picked him up full court on a number of different occasions and played a major role in forcing Irving into some tough shots.
But here’s the thing: we know that Craft can defend people. That’s not a surprise to anyone.
The issue is whether or not he’ll be a liability on the offensive end of the floor. Is he going to have NBA three-point range? Can he effectively run a pick-and-roll against NBA point guards? Will he be able to score off the dribble? At that level, point guards have to be able to score the ball to keep defenses honest, and that’s a legitimate concern about Craft heading into his senior year.
He’ll have a chance to change that perspective, however. Ohio State needs people to step up to replace the scoring they lost with Deshaun Thomas heading to the NBA, and if Craft is one of the guys that can do that, he may play himself into the league.
Regardless of how his pro career turns out, it won’t change the fact that Craft has been one of the best collegiate point guards you’ll see.