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Deshaun Thomas, 6'7, Junior, Power Forward, Ohio State
The leading scorer in what's considered the toughest conference in college basketball, DeShaun Thomas has relished the opportunity to carry the offensive load for Ohio State after the departure of Jared Sullinger.
A McDonald's All-American coming out of Bishop Leuer's High School in Indiana, putting points on the board has never been an issue for Thomas. A versatile and dangerous scorer, the 6'7 combo forward saw immediate playing time for Thad Matta's team as a freshman and broke out as a productive, efficient secondary scorer as a sophomore. Possessing good physical strength, but lacking the elite athleticism that would allow him to project as a surefire small forward at the next level, the former Indiana Mr. Basketball scores in bunches despite being the sole focus of opposing defenses every time he's stepped on the floor as a junior, thanks to his terrific combination of instincts, aggressiveness, and touch.
Thomas has done most of his damage with his jump shot this season, but remains a productive finisher and one-on-one threat in the post. Accounting for 25% of Ohio State's total possessions, up from 18% last year, Thomas has fared well in a large roler that has tested his skill set, although his efficiency has dipped and his strengths and weaknesses as a prospect remain largely unchanged.
The biggest change for Thomas this season has been how he's gotten involved in the Buckeye offense as the team's clear-cut first option. The Ohio State coaching staff has input more sets that have Thomas working off of screens to free him up for catch and shoot opportunities, isolate him on the perimeter, and use him as a decoy to open up things for his teammates. As a result, Thomas has spent more time on the perimeter this season, with 57% of his total shot attempts coming from the outside, up from 48% last season, and his 3-point attempts per-40 minutes pace adjust jumping to 6.7, which ranks 4th among forwards in our top-100. He's making 37% of his 3-pointers.
Possessing a smooth release and shooting the ball with good follow-through, Thomas is most effective when he can catch and shoot, regardless of whether he's flashing to the midrange, spotting up beyond the arc, or running off a screen along the baseline. Thomas has continued to do a good job squaring his body to the rim, a notable improvement in his game from his freshman year. Connecting at a 39% rate off the catch, but only making 29% of his pull-up jumpers, Thomas's lack of blow by quickness hurts his ability to create separation in the midrange, which helps explain why his 2-point percentages have dropped off so dramatically from a stellar 60% last season to 50% this year.
Though he may lack great one-on-one shot creating ability away from the rim, Thomas still finds high percentage shots in paint and from the short corners. The lefty is capable of exploiting mismatches spinning over his right shoulder in the post, does an excellent job timing his cuts, is adept playing off his teammates, and proves opportunistic on the glass and with his dribble attacking from the midrange. Shooting 67% in finishing situations around the basket, Thomas may not be the most explosive leaper, but he's tremendously efficient around the basket thanks to his strength, aggressiveness, and touch.
Thomas's increased scoring average has come at the expense of the exceptionally high level of efficiency he attained as a complementary option last year. His true shooting percentage is down to 56% from 60% last year thanks in large part to just how many contested shots he's attempting away from the basket. Though his shot selection can be questionable at times, the onus is often on Thomas to keep Ohio State in games against the teams in the top of the Big Ten, and he doesn't shy away from that pressure.
In projecting Thomas to the next level, it is worth nothing that the complementary role he played as a sophomore is likely a better reflection of what he'll be asked to do at the next level than the one he's played this year. His jump shot will help him spread the floor while his scoring instincts and ability to exploit mismatches on the block give him upside as a diverse offensive roleplayer.
The main question regarding Thomas's NBA potential is what position he can defend effectively. His versatile offensive game affords him some flexibility on that end of the floor, but his lack of footspeed for a three, size and length for a four, and overall consistency on the defensive end are troubling. He alleviated some concerns about his work ethic by coming into the season in the best shape of his career and has played with good intensity on the perimeter for stretches, but his ability on this end of the floor will surely face close scrutiny from NBA decision-makers during the pre-draft process whenever he decides to leave Ohio State.
Another concern revolves around his lackluster rebounding production, particularly on the defensive end, where he ranks dead last at his position amongst top-100 power forwards. Thomas doesn't contribute much on the offensive glass either, so it remains to be seen how much he can help a team on nights when his shot isn't falling.
One of the best scorers in college basketball, Thomas has matured significantly and become a leader this season, thanks in no small-part, reportedly to the birth of his first son. He still has some things to work on, namely his defense and rebounder, but his merits as an elite shot-maker at the NCAA level are unquestionable at this point. After considering putting his name in the 2012 NBA Draft, Thomas will inevitably contemplate making himself eligible for the 2013 draft depending on how Ohio State's season ends.