As the 2014-15 season approaches, the Ohio State basketball program is turning over a new leaf with the departures of program mainstays Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and LaQuinton Ross.
However, both Craft and Ross have NBA aspirations, as was evidenced by their presence at the NBA combine in Chicago. The real question now is whether either former Buckeye has the ability necessary to stick in the professional ranks.
When it comes to Craft, we know his forte is defense from his college days. After all, he became one of the most popular players to ever set foot on the floor in Columbus among Ohio State supporters because of his ability to draw charges, harass opposing ball-handlers, force turnovers and just physically and mentally wear out the other team’s best guard.
The fact that he was more than willing to dive a few rows into the stands in the process only made him all the more admired in Buckeye Nation.
No perimeter player in the country impacted the game more directly on the defensive end than Craft, and that would clearly be valuable to NBA teams. However, the athleticism at the next level presents a sizable jump forward, so Craft is going to have to find a way to score as well if he wants to be a professional guard.
Scott Phillips of College Basketball Talk didn’t paint a rosy picture at the NBA combine:
"Aaron Craft's jumper looks like Barkley's golf swing," - overheard at NBA Draft Combine— Scott Phillips (@phillipshoops) May 15, 2014
It’s safe to say Craft didn’t make the type of impression he was hoping for in the shooting drills, but there were some positive takeaways. His lane-agility score of 10.78 seconds was third among the 14 point guards and fourth among the 52 overall players, and his shuttle run of 2.9 seconds was fifth among point guards and eighth among all players.
Which Buckeye gets drafted?
Of course, the agility and shuttle run are a testament to his lateral quickness, which is a major reason why he was so effective as a defender.
Still, the biggest red flag in his game is his shooting and ability to score the ball. Since he didn’t answer those questions, Draft Express has Craft as undrafted in its latest mock draft.
As a major college star at one of the top programs in the country, Craft will almost assuredly get a look as an undrafted free agent, though. He will have to answer the bell on the offensive end when those opportunities present themselves.
As for Ross, he is almost the exact opposite of Craft.
Ross is seen more as a pure scorer who brings a solid shooting stroke to the table and the ability to hit from well behind the three-point line. Ross can also help teams in the rebounding department; he gradually improved his post-up game and his willingness to attack the rim off the bounce down the stretch last season.
However, he struggled on defense at times in his college career and didn’t always look fully engaged in what was happening on the floor.
To make matters worse, Bob Baptist of the Columbus Dispatch noted that Ross certainly didn’t seem to take his conditioning seriously before the combine:
Ross, on the other hand, had the highest body-fat percentage of 51 players tested by more than three percent and was the heaviest of the small forwards. His lack of conditioning showed. He finished at or near the bottom of the speed, agility and jumping tests.
Despite the unfortunate measurable scores, Ross still had a positive outlook, via Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: “I’ve heard anywhere from late first [round] to early second. But people say you only have to get one team to like you.”
Ross isn’t wrong about that last sentiment, but Draft Express feels like zero teams will like him enough to actually use a draft pick in its latest mock draft.
While the performance at the combine certainly hurt the perception of Ross among the league’s front offices, we are still talking about a prototypical stretch forward with size and the ability to put the ball in the basket. The NBA loves its versatile stretch forwards with upside, and that is exactly what Ross can be at the next level.
Ross is much more likely to hear his name on draft day than Craft, but we could see both find their way to professional rosters via free agency if nothing else.
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