- Measurables: 6-foot-2, 195 lbs, senior point guard from Ohio State
- Key Stats: 9.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 2.6 turnovers, 2.5 steals per game, 47 FG%, 30 3pt% and 74 FT%
- Projected: Second round
Matters to No One But Me …
OK … so I will admit that I wasn’t exactly pumped when Aaron Craft was one of the prospects readers chose in the informal poll I did before starting this season’s Draft Dreams series. As I’ve written before, I’m not a fan of the way basketball is played in the NCAA. One of my biggest complaints is that offenses choke the life out of the ball, college officials seem to have no clue how to call a charge (often rewarding guys for diving under players in the air, for flopping on minor off-arm contact from the ball-handler or, my personal biggest grievance, giving charge calls to defenders who stand around and take a bump from someone long after that player has passed the ball) and the rules are basically geared to help less talented teams even the playing field against more talented ones. Ridiculous zones that allow teams to just keep multiple defenders under the basket along with way to much clutching and grabbing allowed for perimeter defenders.
Which brings me to Aaron Craft. For all of the positive attention Craft received for maximizing his talent, for hustling, for defending his ass off, during his college career, he also got a tremendous amount of leeway to be ultra physical that not every guard in the country received. Personally, I’m a Michigan State fan, so I’ve spent the last four years watching Craft play clutch and grab (and, admittedly, effective) defense on the much faster, more athletic and more talented Keith Appling. But it’s not just my bias speaking here — ask a Michigan fan what they thought of how Craft defended Trey Burke, for example.
It’s not that I hate physical defense — as a Pistons fan, I pretty clearly don’t. It’s just that Craft’s … we’ll say, handsiness … doesn’t exactly have me sold that his reputation as an elite defender will carry over to the pros.
Fits with the Pistons because …
The pros of Craft are easy — he’s tough, he’s strong, he understands not only one-on-one defense but team defense, he’s passionate, he plays hard all the time and he’s willing to throw his body all over the court to make plays. Those attributes are sorely lacking from this version of the Pistons, with a roster that often plays passive, soft and disinterested basketball.
The Pistons would consider drafting a player like Craft for many of the same reasons they took Peyton Siva last season — defense, intelligence, experience and intangibles. Second round choices don’t stand a great chance at making a roster. If they do make it, most don’t hang around particularly long. So if there’s no prospect you’re in love with when you choose in the second round, why not take a proven player who you know will work hard, push the players on your roster and challenge them with physical play in practice?
Craft’s claim to fame is defense. He’s not the quickest player in the world, but he moves his feet well, he beats guys to spots, he’s strong and he’s willing to step in front of anyone to take a charge. The Pistons currently have maybe the worst combination of defensive point guards in the league with Brandon Jennings and Will Bynum. If nothing else, bringing in Craft as a third point guard (assuming the Pistons have the same top two next season) (please don’t have the same top two next season) gives them a more viable defensive option to cool off opposing PGs who find things too easy against Jennings/Bynum.
Doesn’t fit with the Pistons because …
As I mentioned above, Craft is a college star whose reputation allowed him some luxuries with officials. That’s great for his college team, but he will have to adjust his physicality if he’s going to carve out a NBA role. Hand-checks and upper body contact as an impediment to driving guards are called much more regularly in the NBA, and both were part of Craft’s repertoire to help nullify the quickness of opposing guards.
I think he’ll figure out the defense though. My much larger issue with Craft is that he can’t shoot. For all of the coverage (and he got a TON of coverage) praising his work ethic and desire during his career, the fact that he never really improved much in four years always seems to escape the narrative. In fact, his three-point shooting got worse — from 38 percent as a freshman to 30 percent each of the last two seasons. On top of that, he has a wonky looking shot that suggests he has quite a bit of work to do if he’s ever going to add a reliable spot-up jumper to his repertoire, something that will be vital to him sticking in the league.
Also, somewhat contrary to his rep as the ultimate heady player, he is not opposed to being a bit of a risk taker at times, occasionally throwing low-percentage passes into traffic or taking bad shots.
Craft’s defense is good enough to get him in the second round conversation. His offense is not NBA-caliber, and the fact that he’s played four years of college with little offensive improvement makes it a longshot that he has much room to grow there.
From the Experts
Craft isn’t your traditional NBA point guard by almost any standard. But his toughness and defense have led many NBA scouts to contend that he’ll find a way to make and stick on a team. He’s a likely second-round pick to undrafted, but so many scouts admire the way he plays that someone will give him a chance.
One area Craft will have to focus on to stick in the NBA is his ability to create out of the pick and roll. Craft has shown he can be a distributor in this area, but he often doesn’t have a passing lane because the defense goes under the screen, daring him to take a jump shot. Craft looks uncomfortable shooting off the dribble (27% FG%), as he struggles to get balanced and has a slow release that will allow NBA defenders to recover and challenge the shot when they see him prepare to shoot. Craft took only 1.8 three point attempts per 40 minutes pace adjusted,third lowest among point guards in our top 100. He shot only 30% on these three pointers, on par with the rest of his career and not high enough to make defenses guard him at this distance. If he doesn’t develop a passable jump shot, it will be harder for him to stay in the league because defenses will not need to guard him in this area, making it harder for him to create for his teammates.
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