While he had a successful collegiate career, most people didn't expect much from Aaron Craft when it came to a professional career in the NBA. The harsh reality was that while Craft's effort, leadership and defensive prowess were all top notch, his lack of an offensive game would keep him out of the league. That being said, while Craft saw some interest from the Golden State Warriors, it wasn't a huge surprise when the team cut the former Buckeye before the season tipped off.
The Warriors, however, still liked enough of Craft to keep him close to the organization, signing him to their D-League affiliate in Santa Cruz. The D-League, which has been the home for a laundry list of former Big 10 players, seemed like a solid fit for a player like Craft, who has plenty of NBA-level skills but is flawed enough that he'll be hard pressed to make a NBA roster. The end result was Craft spent the entire year with the Santa Cruz Warriors, becoming one of three D-League players to start and play in every game this season.
When everything is said and done Craft found a way to replicate his collegiate career out west, leading the Warriors in minutes and steals (2.5 spg), while also recording over 9 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds per game. Craft became a suffocating nuisance on the defensive side of the ball, smothering defenders and earning the D-League's Defensive Player of the Year award.
Besides being a defensive stalwart once again, Craft also brought a number of other traits he developed in Columbus, such as earning a reputation as a team leader.
"He’s been the glue of our team, on and off the court...I wish I would have talked to Aaron’s coaches before I coached him. But I feel like I realized this early on...that anyone who gets an opportunity to coach him is blessed," mentioned Warriors head coach Casey Hill.
The on the court success went beyond individual achievements as well for the former Buckeye guard, as the Warriors made it to the D-League finals once again in 2015. Unlike prior trips, however, the Warriors were able to pick up their first D-League title after avenging last year's defeat to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.
While it was a successful enough season for Craft, it still left a bit to be desired as the Ohio native wasn't able to get a call up to the NBA this season. Like mentioned above, the biggest issue Craft faced heading to the NBA was his inability to shoot the ball. While his leadership and defensive skills are good enough to make it in the association, without an offensive game it's unlikely that he'll ever have a legitimate chance to make it in the NBA. And after one season in the D-League, that reality is what's still holding Craft back.
The harsh reality is the NBA is a shooting league and for a guard to only shoot 43.4% from the field is simply unacceptable, even more so when you're not known for attacking the rim and creating your own shot. Even more problematic is Craft's atrocious outside game, seen once again this year as he only hit 29 of his 113 three point attempts. His 25.7% mark from three was actually a decline from his last season in Columbus when he hit 30.2% of his attempts.
Offensive problems will ultimately be the downfall of Aaron Craft, but it shouldn't distract from an impressive first season in the D-League. He didn't do enough to earn a call up to a NBA roster, but it was enough that he'll likely get another look from teams in the summer. The biggest question heading forward is if Craft will continue to participate in the D-League if he doesn't make a NBA roster or if he'll consider the idea of heading overseas to a league where his struggles with shooting will be less detrimental.
Either way, Craft is still the hard-nosed defender he's always been. And with that I'll leave you with a highlight video for the NBADL Defensive Player of the Year: