The 2013-14 Ohio State Buckeyes are going to take some getting used to.
Anytime you tuned in to watch Ohio State this past season, there were two guarantees to what you were about to witness: Aaron Craft’s cheeks would be rosy within the first 20 minutes, and Deshaun Thomas was going to shoot. A lot.
Thomas wasn’t a chucker in the way that Russ Smith or Marshall Henderson chucked. His chucking was out of necessity. After losing Jared Sullinger and William Buford from a Final Four team, Thad Matta really didn’t have any other choice than to funnel the offense to Thomas and hope he could score enough to make the fact that the Buckeyes really didn’t have any other proven scorers a moot point.
Luckily for Matta, that worked. Thomas was born with a gift for getting up shots. As a freshman, he played only 14 minutes per game and found a way to get up 5.9 shots per game. Thomas averaged 19.8 points per game in 2012-13, but that hardly speaks to his consistency. These stats do:
- Thomas scored in double figures in all 37 games.
- Only four times did he score less than 16 points.
- Thomas got up double-digit shot attempts in all but two games. In those two games, he averaged 20 points.
No player has ever dominated the ball in Matta’s offense as much as Thomas did. He took nearly one-third of the shots when he was on the court.
So what’s the contingency plan for a Thomas-less offense?
The Buckeyes do not need one guy to try to create offense in the way that Thomas did. Last season was sort of a bridge year to work in the less-experienced Buckeyes. It just so happened that the combination of Thomas’ scoring and Matta’s ability to quickly mold a roster led to a Big Ten tournament title and an Elite Eight.
The certainty for 2013-14 is that Matta will figure out a way to keep Ohio State relevant. The uncertainty is who will be the next go-to scorer. These are the three candidates in the running.
If the question is—Who will be Ohio State’s leader?—the obvious answer is Aaron Craft. As for go-to scorer, that’s up in the air.
Craft certainly had his moments when he looked like he wanted to be the guy. He even took the game-deciding three in the final seconds of Ohio State’s tourney win against Iowa State. It was a play that was run for Thomas, and Craft decided to take the three instead of passing to the Buckeyes star.
In that game against the Cyclones, Craft scored 18 points. It was one of five games that saw the point guard score 18 or more points.
When Craft wants to, he’s a more-than-capable driver, and that’s how he gets most of his points. The weakness in Craft’s game is his outside shot. He took more threes last season (90) than ever before, but he shot a career-worst 30 percent.
That inability to consistently make jumpers makes Craft easier to guard, and he would occasionally disappear as a scorer. In six games, Craft scored four points or less, including two games when he went scoreless. This stood out since Craft—at 10 points per game—was the second-leading scorer on the team.
Craft’s career arc would suggest that he’ll average around 12 points per game next season. When the Buckeyes need him to be aggressive, he’ll step up similar to last year, but he’s best suited as a second option in the scoring department.
Lenzelle Smith Jr.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. spent the last two years as a starter whose role was to hit open jumpers and occasionally score off the dribble if he had a clear opening.
Smith’s big games usually would come when he was able to get up a lot of threes. He scored a career-high 24 points at Northwestern when he made six treys. All six of those threes were assisted. He made only one shot that day that wasn’t assisted.
The point being, for Smith to score, he usually needs someone else to create the opportunity. What we’ve seen from Smith in three years in Columbus is probably similar to what he’s going to provide in his senior year.
Any Ohio State fan reading this would have questioned my credentials if I were to come to a different conclusion than LaQuinton Ross will be the go-to guy for the Buckeyes.
It just makes too much sense for Ross to step in for Thomas. For one, Ross is a natural fit because he will take Thomas’ spot in the starting lineup.
Like Thomas, Ross is a skilled stretch 4 who can hit the perimeter jumper—he shot 38.9 percent from three last year—or create his own shot off the bounce. Like Thomas, Ross has a history of getting up a lot of shots in limited minutes. He took 27.1 percent of Ohio State’s attempts when he was on the floor last year, according to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers (subscription required).
And what makes Ross the obvious candidate is the way he finished the season. Ross scored 53 points in Ohio State’s final three tourney games.
It’s a lot of pressure to put on a guy who played in only nine games as a freshman and has never started a game in his career. But unlike his more experienced teammates, Ross has the game to be an elite scorer. Next season, he’ll have the opportunity as well.