Yesterday, in praising him for hitting the biggest shot of this tournament so far, I mentioned that Aaron Craft is a polarizing figure. Outside of Marshall Henderson, he may be the most hated man in the NCAAs, but he's regarded by many media members and most of the stat of Ohio as a great player, maybe one of the best. So which is he? Is Craft a talented guard who multiplies his talent by a great deal of hard work, or is he another in a long line of players whose hype exceeds his actual output?
Whatever your opinion of Aaron Craft is, it's important to start with the quantifiable numbers. To that end, Craft gets 10/3.4/4.7 on .431/.301/.776 shooting. To Craft's credit, he doesn't force his offense at the expense of the teams, using only the third most possessions and in a virtual tie with Lenzelle Smith. Craft posts a steal percentage of 3.9%, good for 74th in the country, and an assist rate of 26.3%, good for 202nd. His turnover rate of 18.4% is actually slightly worse than Xavier forward (and Banners whipping boy) Jeff Robinson. Still, his A/TO is well over the 2/1 dividing line.
So what do those numbers say? To start with the positive, there is no denying that Craft is an elite defender. According to Luke Winn at Sports Illustrated (inventor of the Craft Turnometer), Aaron creates turnovers on 6.32% of opponents possessions. That, combined with the steal percentage, make Craft a menace on the defensive end. Somewhat understated by Craft's many supporters is his ability to move the ball. His A/TO is excellent, despite the fact he's not as careful with the ball as a point guard can be. Craft is also second on the team in percentage of minutes played, at 84.8%
But it isn't all positive with Craft. Make no mistake, he's a terrible shooter. His 30.1% from deep is the worst mark of his career. That hasn't kept Craft from taking more attempts from three this year than in the two previous years. The inside the arc numbers don't paint a good picture either. Only Shannon Scott, a backup guard, is a worse two point shooter than Craft. That leaves Craft as literally the worst three point shooter on the team, and the penultimately poor two point shooter on the team. With those numbers in mind, the 19.1% usage rate looks a lot worse. As good as a passer as Craft is, he should do it a lot more.
None of those numbers generally factor in the discussion on Craft. To grossly simplify it, it basically devolves to Craft being either one of the top guards in the country, or Craft is a JV player somehow surviving based only on the media inflation. Articles on ESPN currently call Craft one of the most indispensable players in the Sweet 16, while also listing him as only the 15th best point guard in the nation and likely to be undrafted. That dichotomy on one page pretty much sums up the feelings on OSU's floor leader.
As per the norm, neither of those is the truth. For starters, Craft is not at best a JV player who has somehow snuck on to a team in the Sweet 16. Hangers-on don't score 21 against Michigan State and follow that up a month later with 20 more over the Spartans. Despite his size, Craft has grabbed five or more rebounds on ten occasions this year. Aaron's line of 20/3/9 against MSU in the Big Ten semifinals pretty much puts the lie to the idea that he can't play. He can, and he can play exceedingly well at times.
However, Aaron Craft isn't the defender he gets credit for being. Winn's Craft Turnometer is a great tool for Buckeyes fans, but also shows just how far the hype has gone. The 6.32% of opponents possessions on which he creates turnovers falls below Briante Weber of VCU's steals percentage alone. Craft's own steals percentage is impressive, but hardly that of a ball hawk. Assuming that other elite defenders create turnovers at even 75% of the rate Craft does he would fall roughly 55th on the Turnovermeter named for him.
Aaron Craft has his supporters and he has people that seem angered by his existence. As with many things, the rhetoric has by now far eclipsed any facts involved with the situation. Not a JV player by any stretch of the imagination, Craft is also some way off being the best defender of our modern time. What he is is a point guard who can't shoot, but uses his talents in other facets of the game to greatly influence outcomes. In short, Aaron Craft is a solid, not great, player. Nothing more, nothing less.