Ohio State Basketball: Ranking the Buckeye Starting Lineup by NBA Prospects

Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistSeptember 22, 2012

Ohio State Basketball: Ranking the Buckeye Starting Lineup by NBA Prospects

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    While the ultimate goals of a Big Ten championship and deep NCAA tournament run in March remain the same, the Ohio State Buckeyes' starting lineup will look a bit different this season.

    Jared Sullinger will be lacing it up for the Boston Celtics, and William Buford is trying his hands overseas.

    Ironically enough, it wasn’t that long ago that Buford was considered a potential first-round draft pick before opting to return for his senior season. The NBA can be tricky like that. Clearly, college success matters, but it often comes down to more than just raw numbers and statistics.

    But what about the current Buckeye starters? Sure, Aaron Craft is the heart and soul of the Ohio State engine, but where does he rank among his teammates in terms of his professional prospects?

    Read on to see a ranking of this season’s projected Buckeye starters in terms of their NBA potential.

No. 5 Lenzelle Smith Jr.

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    All five of the Ohio State starters have NBA potential, so this is less of a critique of Lenzelle Smith Jr. and more of a statement on how talented the Buckeyes' starting lineup can be this season.

    Smith has a couple of intangibles working in his favor. He has solid size (6’4”) and is a lefty, which for one reason or another (perhaps unfamiliarity) seems to trip defenders up from time to time.

    He doesn’t do anything particularly great, but he is serviceable in a number of areas. This solid versatility is often an underrated trait in the NBA, where greatness in one aspect of the game can overshadow weaknesses in others.

    Smith is a formidable three-point shooter, can rebound for his position and plays impressive defense (even though it frequently goes unnoticed because of Craft’s defensive excellence). If you can do all three of these things effectively, there may just be a spot for you somewhere in the professional ranks.

No. 4 Aaron Craft

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    If I were to make 100 Ohio State power rankings in various categories, this would probably be the only one that Aaron Craft wouldn’t finish in the top two.

    Craft is probably the most important player on the Buckeye roster this season, and is arguably the best defender (and maybe even point guard) in the entire nation.

    However, three of his teammates have better professional prospects than he does. 

    Craft is a bit undersized at 6’2” and doesn’t have the explosive quickness with the ball that is almost required from point guards in today’s NBA.

    Nevertheless, there is absolutely a place for him in the Association. I have little doubt that his defensive prowess and overall effort would be infectious to his teammates, even at the professional level. In fact, the perfect situation for Craft would be to land on a team that prides itself on its defense, such as the Chicago Bulls.

    You can't tell me Craft couldn't get under the skin of some of the professional point guards.

No. 3 Amir Williams

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    Amir Williams has an unfair advantage in this category that the other Buckeye starters do not.

    He is 6’11”.

    But it is not just his height that should be enticing to NBA scouts. Williams possesses a raw athleticism that his predecessor Jared Sullinger simply does not. He is quick, can run the floor and is a natural shot-blocker.

    In fact, Williams averaged nearly a block a game last season, despite only playing six minutes per contest. He also shot at an impressive 53 percent clip from field, albeit in a limited sample size of actual game action.

    Williams flashed his untapped potential in the Elite Eight last season against Syracuse when he had to play valuable minutes for the Buckeyes due to Sullinger’s foul trouble. Look for him to jump into the national radar this year with significantly more playing time.

No. 2 LaQuinton Ross

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    LaQuinton Ross has the potential—the potential—to be a better shooting version of Evan Turner for the Buckeyes this season.

    Yes, I know this is big praise for someone who spent the majority of last season riding the pine following his academically induced suspension at the beginning of the year. However, there is a reason he was such a highly regarded recruit.

    Ross is a lengthy 6’8” (almost the exact height of Jared Sullinger) forward who can drive the lane, play formidable defense and shoot lights-out from behind the three-point arc. He is comfortable with the ball in his hands and will undoubtedly have more athleticism than almost everyone who will try to guard him this season.

    Ross will have his chance in 2012-13 to fulfill his untapped potential at the collegiate level. If he can demonstrate that shooting and driving ability effectively and regularly, the Buckeyes will go far and Ross will land on the radar of plenty of NBA scouts.

No. 1 Deshaun Thomas

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    Deshaun Thomas will be the top offensive weapon for the Buckeyes this season. He is also the team’s top professional prospect.

    The 6’7” Thomas is a matchup nightmare who can score from anywhere on the floor. If opposing teams try to body him up with bigger power forwards (after all, he is officially the starting power forward for Ohio State), he can beat them off the dribble. At the same time, he has no problem posting up smaller guys or hitting three-pointers over their outstretched arms.

    It’s not just that Thomas scores. He does it efficiently as well, which is somewhat surprising to those who still view him as the "shoot first and ask questions later" freshman he was two years ago. In fact, Thomas was third in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage last season.

    His defense, which has always been the weak point of his game, gradually improved over the course of last year, which is encouraging for Buckeye fans. If Thomas can increase his rebounding totals, Ohio State will have almost the complete package that teams look for in forwards.