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There’s nothing wrong with Aaron Craft’s game, other than the hype surrounding it

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Two things about Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft:

For most of the season, I’ve thought opponents have defended him poorly, Michigan State being the latest.

And, if I were coaching a college basketball team, I’d want him on it.

My column today on Keith Appling’s struggles against Craft and the Spartans’ excessive respect for Craft’s offensive game shouldn’t be misconstrued as disrespect for the Buckeyes junior, known for his in-your-face defense.

Craft is a fantastic defensive player. More importantly, an annoying defensive player who winds up embedded in the heads of players more talented than he is, such as Appling and Michigan’s Trey Burke.

Craft is a competent, though limited offensive point guard. But when opponents defend him too closely — perhaps because it’s natural for opposing guards to defend him as he defends them — it allows Craft to create offensively and wastes energy unnecessarily of players such as Appling and Burke.

I also believe Craft receives recognition beyond his abilities for reasons most are afraid to say — he’s a rosey-cheeked white guy. If he’s not, if he looks like Appling, I don’t think he’d be preseason All-Big Ten or featured in Sports Illustrated. That’s not his fault. But it’s the fault of writers who don’t necessarily understand the game or what he brings to it, but fall in love with his reputation and look.

All of that said, Craft has value. More value than his ability as a player because of what he does to the heads of his foes.

Fans know this, because he irks many of you, too.

Where I believe MSU failed against Craft Sunday was that it didn’t try messing with his head — by not guarding him at all outside of the paint and seeing what it does to his confidence as an already suspect shooter. If he makes a few, so be it. But there is no excuse to guard him so closely or defend him above ball-screens, allowing him to score off the dribble.

It cost MSU dearly Sunday. Cost them the game in my opinion. And was something the Spartans could have controlled even on a miserable day for Appling.

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75 Responses to There’s nothing wrong with Aaron Craft’s game, other than the hype surrounding it

  1. avatar Ryan says:

    Aaron Craft is all heart and gives maximum effort on every single play. He is by far the best on the ball defender that I have ever seen in college basketball. Fans and media love to see a kid play so hard regardless of the color of their skin. By bringing up race you come off as nothing but a bitter fan. The kid was just named the Academic All -American of the year with a 3.92 GPA-He’s Pre Med. Regardless of team affiliation, what’s not to love about Aaron Craft?

    • avatar Spartan 81 says:

      Graham, bringing up race is just going to drive more fans away from your site. I met you in Minny you know my demographics and my proudest moments were being befriended by first
      George Webster and recently Gene Washington. I played against Earvin Johnsons Pop Warner football team in 5th grade and we all went out to Millers ice cream in Okemos after the game.
      I try to stick up for you on the other site, because this is all about sports and leisure but some of these fans have no since of humor and even get mad when I bring up your name on your site.
      Just my two cents, the race card should be left out of Spartan Sports.

      • avatar LancelotSpartan says:

        Finding it harder and harder to stick up for Graham… That statement is borderline ridiculous… People are recognizing Oladipo and he “looks” like Appling. I realize that Oladipo is a better all around player than Craft, but I believe people like both players because they always give 100% and their motor never quites. I really don’t think race has anything to do with it…

        • avatar Graham Couch says:

          Oladipo is an incredible player and his due hype matches his ability. With Craft, who’s a good player, a valuable player, his preseason hype is above his abilities. And that has something to do with race, in my opinion. Happens all the time in our society, in sports and elsewhere.

          • avatar Jim says:

            Nice try, but Oladipo had no hype prior to this season because he was non-existent last year. No one picked him to be a star, earning his status during this year’s performance. Craft’s preseason hype was due to being a 2-year starter who has consistently made major contributions to his team.
            Try to be yourself and not an automatic anti-everything-OSU Jack Ebling.

          • avatar John says:

            Another dominating performance by Aaron Craft. Maybe now after Craft has handled Sparty again, you know why he is considered one of the finest players in the Country. The fact that you think it has to do with race is concerning and ignorant. Go back to writing about the Freeport Pretzels.

      • avatar Graham Couch says:

        I appreciate your thoughts, Spartan81 and enjoyed meeting you (as well as the introduction to Gene Washington). But I disagree with you on this. Race relations and perceptions are everywhere in our lives and sports, mostly for the better, a terrific example of this. I’m not worried about driving people away, just furthering conversation and sharing my thoughts. Hopefully folks respect that.

        • avatar 3M_Rocker says:

          I TOTALLY agree Graham. I think he gets the benefit of the whistle too. Race is involved in many places and situations in different degrees. It’s not automatically malicious either. Sometimes it’s subconscious.

          I love all the white dudes that have the instant defense mechanism of trying to shut down any conversation that even mentions possible racial overtones.

          “Playing the race card” is a phrase you will hear an nauseum, Graham. And comparing Oladipo to Craft is just freaking hilarious. Oladipo will mostly likely be a star in the NBA, while Craft might get a look in Europe if he’s lucky.

  2. avatar Jmr says:

    Agree. You would have thought he was D Wade. He changed the game and we made no adjustments.

    • avatar Spartan 81 says:

      Appling had to go 38 minutes against IU he is worn down, give him a week off and he will have more energy to finish. We need to win out and we will get a 2 or 3 seed in Auburn Hills.

  3. avatar Dave in Evanston says:

    This season the help defense down low has been absent. How many times did Craft get to the hole for uncontested layups yesterday? It’s one thing if he beats his guy out top, but there’s no excuse for that leading to a layup. Appling has to know that he has help, so that if he gets beat off the dribble he has help. In years past, that help has been there. I don’t know what the story is with the bigs has been, but there’s gotta be help.

    • avatar 3M_Rocker says:

      Agree. I was wondering why guys weren’t peeling off to swat his shot. Especially after the 3rd or 4th time he went to a layup.

  4. avatar Jeff says:

    One could argue that the measure of a player’s greatness truly reveals itself when the bright lights are on and the ball is tipped. By that notion, where does that place the uber-talented likes of Burke and Appling? Do it when it matters most fellas, and partisan, banal arguments like the one in this hometown column are moot. Craft delivers, and though your assessment of his limited offensive gifts may be correct, your descent into race as a source for his following and popularity is as pitiful as it is laughable. Small-minded arguments like this have been going on since the days of Maravich and Bird (and no, I realize Craft isn’t even near the same atmosphere as those two) but their legacy long outlived that of their bitter detractors. Great players have an impact on the outcome of games, and the very best ones make you loathe the very sight of them on the opposite bench no matter what their color might be.

    • avatar Spartan 81 says:

      Some men feel tall by standing on the shoulders of others.

    • avatar Graham Couch says:

      Good analysis, Jeff. This isn’t a small-minded argument, I don’t believe (or I wouldn’t have written it). This more speaks to the “great white hype” syndrome and our inability to see past race. We see a 6-8 white guy who can shoot these days and Larry Bird is the first comparison, even if there’s a black player (say Chuck Person) more in line with that player’s skills and style.

      • avatar Hammer says:

        Maybe you are underestimating Craft because he is white. Maybe you are seeing stereotypical white, gritty player getting the most out of his ability and assume he has little athletic ability. Overhyped because hes white? Possibly undervalued because hes white

      • avatar Jeff says:

        I appreciate your reply and see your point, and though race may indeed play a role in the preference and/or perceived favoritism in the minds of some in the public and media, I’d still argue that public fascination with Craft runs more than skin deep. Some of it is related to his on court performance (he’s already OSU’s all-time steals leader…as a junior) and some of it is off-court (he’s a two-time Academic All-American, and is the NCAA’s 2013 Academic All-American of the year with a 3.92 GPA). When you add a clutch performance against a talented MSU squad, it tends to make one sing his praises regardless of how pale he might be. Appling and Burke are arguably more talented in different areas of their games, and undoubtedly their own clutch performances will be forthcoming and will be equally transcendent. I’m just as prepared to appreciate their efforts without attempting to lower them by stooping to the lowest denominator, and hope others can do the same.

        • avatar Joe Cannon says:

          I couldnt agree more Jeff…Craft plays basketball like we would all want our sons to play…he hustles the entire game and never gives up..he makes #buckeyenation proud on and off the court. He is the perfect example of what being student athlete means..in the days of one and dones Craft shows what NCAA basketball has been in the past and what it could be in the future if they get rid of that ridiculous rule that has these kids suiting up for one year and bolting for “the league”

  5. avatar Spartan 81 says:

    Graham, do you think MSU needs to run the table to get that 3 seed or would 13-5 and beating Wisconsin be enough? I do not want to fall into that 4-5 bracket away from home.

    • avatar Graham Couch says:

      I think 13-5, with wins over the Badgers and Wildcats to close the season locks up a 3 seed. If MSU gets it together to beat Michigan, a No. 2 seed is still very much in play.

  6. avatar lanemclane says:

    This is nothing more than a stab at an ‘I told you so’ post on a later date when some team, by strategy or not, lays off Craft & he has an off night. The race card is simply thrown in there to get page views, which it is assuredly providing.

    Couch fancies himself an armchair coach like the rest of us. He simply has a space to shout it from.

    • avatar expressing my concern says:

      I am a high school coach in the Chicago area . My brother is a former Big Ten Coach who had the privilege of coaching against Tom Izzo for 10 seasons. I am saddened to see this issue brought up regarding Craft. Race should not be considered when discussing our student athletes.

    • avatar Graham Couch says:

      Fair enough on the armchair line. I do love the game and love to analyze it. But this wasn’t throwing in the race card. Race is so prevalent in our perceptions. And in the case of Craft, has something to do with his publicity. Nothing wrong with saying that. Page views are never the motivation.

      • avatar pfitz says:

        You mentioned his race along with the gratuitous “rosey cheeks” in case we missed the part about him being white. That sir, is playing the race card.

  7. avatar bbuck says:

    hmmmmmm….racist much?

  8. avatar Randall in Ohio says:

    I realize you write for a newspaper in a college town, where a lot of mushy headed liberals reside…but you do realize that what you wrote is pure racism, right? If you have any doubts, simply insert a black player and make the same sort of comments and see if you have a job the next morning.

    Aaron Craft gets acclaim because he’s very good at what he does. There’s a reason he is all conference, and a large part of it has to do with more than 300 steals in not yet 3 seasons of play — and not the shade of red on his cheeks.

    He also gets noticed by media and others because he’s a rarity among student-athletes, in that he actually puts as much emphasis on the STUDENT aspect of his life as he does the athlete, as evidenced by his 3.9 gpa and being recently named Capitol One’s Academic All American of the Year.

    So why not focus on the real aspects of Craft’s game (and life) instead of making up stuff to suit your own very poorly constructed agenda? I think you’ll find your readership (well, those who aren’t mushy headed liberals) much more appreciative.

    • avatar Graham Couch says:

      Randall, I disagree with you. This isn’t racism and talking about our perceptions as they pertain to race, no matter someone’s ethnicity, is not racism. Race is an elephant in the room we too often ignore, even when it’s played a role in our thoughts or decisions.

      • avatar Randall in Ohio says:

        Is it the elephant in the room or is that how you and too many others always see it (which would suggest an obsession with race that isn’t really there)? I’d argue it’s the latter.

        No matter how far ahead this country moves in terms of race relations it seems (at least according to folks like you) we’re never far enough.

        Racism is always there; always lurking; always that hidden aspect of any and everything we say or do that just simply isn’t talked about enough.

        I say that’ a bunch of baloney and the only way this country will EVER get to be the type of place Dr. King dreamed about is when we start actually looking at people as the individuals they are and stop this obsession (and it is an obsession) with always injecting race — just as you did.

        It wasn’t necessary to your piece about the qualities that make Craft good or bad, but yet there it was.

        That’s racism.

  9. avatar Spartan in the D says:

    While this is clearly a provocative and divisive issue to bring up (anything dealing with race always is in our society due to its horrific and sad history), I think there’s some merit to it. You can’t deny that the media trumps up white players. Be real. Ask any of the Spartan players about this topic behind closed doors and I bet many of them would agree with Graham. Saying that, Craft definitely has game and is a tough nosed player. And I just wish MSU had defended him differently – sagging off of him to force him to shoot – and also forcing him to drive with his left hand.

    • avatar PhillyBuck says:

      Yeah, Appling was saying Craft was over-rated in the pre-season and after MSU won the first game.

      He can’t take it back now. However, Couch has decided to double-down and hide behind the “we just defended him wrong line”.

      I am sure Izzo appreciates the pointers, though……

  10. avatar Bill says:

    I think it was their disrespect for crafts offensive game that cost them their chance at victory. Maybe if they would have educated themselves on how he primarily scores from layups (and forced him to pull up jumpers) he wouldn’t have made a “more talented guard” in Appling look silly all game while he watches an “overhyped” two time academic all american lay the ball up all game.

    Either Izzo didn’t prepare his team right (which I doubt) or Appling wasn’t intelligent enough to make the adjustments necessary to win the game.

    Furthermore, I disagree that Crafts race plays a role in his hype, and instead present the possibility of his intelligence, effort, leadership, and defensive prowl. He is arguably the best defensive guard in college basketball, who was also not exactly a blue chip recruit. He has the ohio state steals record, as a junior. He is the captain of a team that was in the final four last season. I don’t understand what he hasn’t done to earn his hype aside from averaging 20 ppg (even though he scored in bunches yesterday).

  11. avatar discodog says:

    There is nothing racists in pointing out the media treats white ball players differently from black ball players. If there is racism its on the part of the media (although I don’t think anyone is making a conscious effort to push white ballers).
    Travis Walton had a similiar game to Craft, on a more talented team, and got less national recognition. Maybe it was because of his skin maybe it wasn’t but there is nothing wrong with asking the question.

  12. avatar Tony says:

    Saying Aaron Craft only gets the level of attention because “he’s a rosey-cheeked white guy” is wrong. He has been doing this for 3 years, he didn’t start yesterday. He was named to Defensive All American Team as a freshman. He is the best on ball defender in college basketball hands down, there is no other player regardless of race that gets after it like him.

    Also quit talking around your racism by saying “perception as it pertains to race.” It’s the same thing, as in you are prejudging / perceiving him based off race.

  13. avatar pfitz says:

    ‘I also believe Craft receives recognition beyond his abilities for reasons most are afraid to say — he’s a rosey-cheeked white guy.”

    That is repugnant.

  14. avatar buttsrloose says:

    the race card

    well done

  15. avatar buttsrloose says:

    i’ve said it all along, costello doesn’t get nearly enough recognition for being a white guy

    game changer

  16. avatar macedonianreader says:

    You’re correct. This isn’t racism. This also isn’t journalism. But it is defeatism. You defame all basketball players regardless of the color of their skin and the game itself all in the name of getting a little attention for yourself.

    Well done, man!

  17. avatar steve in korea says:

    are you from this century? nothing better to do than write these type of articles? I like Spartans and love our coach, even from serving overseas, but don’t need this kind of articles

  18. avatar Archie says:

    An effective writer would have made an argument that Craft is overrated by stating empirical information backing up such an opinion without the unnecessary mention of race, and then had the courage to stand by those assertions. This is no different than when Isaiah Thomas was branded as being racist after saying Larry Bird “would be just another good guy” if he were black. If you think Thomas was out of bounds, then by extension you have to agree that this treatment of Craft also is out of bounds.

  19. avatar OscarSierraUniform says:

    Disgusting racist drivel from a not very talented writer. Are you going to start calling black athletes “fuzzy-haired black guys?”

  20. avatar Matt Jones says:

    I personally have no issue with article. Race is something nobody wants to talk about. Its constantly swept to the side. If Craft was black, we would view him differently without a doubt. He is a good looking, hard working, smart,and charming white kid from a small town in the midwest, the media eats that stuff up. Also, other white’s and their children idolize him because of the rarity of players like him. He has been overrated by some media members due to the public hype. People continue to mix him in among the best pg’s in the nation even though it is a stretch. Love and respect him for what he is.

    • avatar PhillyBuck says:

      And the fact that both black and white sportscasters often refer to him as one of the best on-ball defenders in the game? That is based on him being white? Seriously?

      Yeah, he is selfless, smart and 100% hustle. Off the court he is trouble free, a team leader and has a 3.92 in pre-Med. If he was black, I am pretty sure people would still notice these things and like him on thier team.

      I believe the writer and you are not racists, just haters who feel the need to explain away when someone flat our whips you.

  21. avatar Jack Ebling (@JackEbling, @DrivewithJack) says:

    Good points to consider, Graham. And we’ll do just that, beginning next week, when you co-host “The Drive with Jack Ebling” each Tuesday afternoon on The Game 730 AM in Mid-Michigan and on iHeartRadio worldwide. We’ll take up the Craft situation the first day, some time between 3 and 6 p.m. Craft is the captain of the Academic All-American team, the best on-ball defender in college basketball since Mookie Blaylock and an exceptional leader. He also has some obvious deficiencies. But I don’t blame him for his skin tone or the hype that comes with it. He could play for me any day. . . . Let’s go to the phones!

    • avatar PhillyBuck says:

      Who is this Mookie Blaylock you speak of? Oh, thats right he wasn’t white so no one had any appreciation of his game.

  22. avatar Tico says:

    Not that it matters but Aaron Craft is not just a “rosey cheeked white guy”. He is a great player, student and person. Also check your facts as he is mixed race, part Filipino. Geesh.

  23. avatar ethel merman says:

    The writer has less insight than a dead platypus.

  24. avatar The People's Buckeye says:

    The irony is that Graham is some white guy about to be nationally recognized for saying another white guy is only nationally recognized for being white.

  25. avatar Hersh says:

    Are you serious? Any coach in this nation would bend over backward to have Craft as their starting PG, that my racist friend is not overrated. While he does struggle on the offensive end at times, he is arguably the best on ball defender in the nation. How a guy who actually has his own article calls Craft overrated is beyond me, and why the “rosy cheek” comment? Come on bro

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  27. avatar DC Spartan says:

    no idea about the race thing, maybe Rob Parker can provide some valuable insight.

    Craft is limited offensively, and we did guard him poorly. However, give him credit, he often had to drive untouched and unimpeded from 22-23 feet out and make wide open layups.

    One thing Craft is that Appling isn’t though is a true leader. He got them to rally and play even when down 9. What did Appling do when we started to wet the bed? No, seriously. I’m not sure what he did. You can be off when shooting, but you should never be off when defending or leading. Appling made the same mistake over and over and compounded it with bad decisions or passes. He’s making Izzos decision to make him a captain look questionable.

    We need Appling to get his head right, and fast.

  28. avatar Jay says:

    Forget about racism, you’re completely ignorant. Is he hyped to be the Big Ten player of the year? No. He’s hyped because no other player in America plays the type of relentless tenacious on ball D that he does. He’s hyped because he carries a 3.9 average in pre-med and was just named to the 1st team Academic All-American team for the 2nd straight year. He brings as much all around relentless effort and passion to the court as he does to his studies. How can you overhype that in a society crawling with idiots like you?

  29. avatar Sam Racette says:

    Craft is all in on defense. Maybe it is time to stress to young kids…it’s ok to work hard and play D. In addition, he is all in for the team. It reminds me of Pete Rose, the player, not the manager. Craft is college basketball’s Charlie Hustle.

  30. avatar dawg says:

    Barack Obama could not have said it better himself.

  31. avatar Scott says:

    He is probably the best on ball defenders at PG the NCAA has seen in a long time. He also plays for one of the largest fanbases in sports, and is an academic all american on top of that. Also, just to prove you incredibly wrong, Bruce Bowen was incredibly limited outside of defense. He got a ton of pub, and was black. What is going on here? This cannot be true.

  32. avatar Mark Scott says:

    Mr. Couch,
    Full disclosure first. I’m a grad of the Ohio State University, happily married to a Sparty, and we both attended yesterday’s game. As a former journalist myself, I support your right to try to bring up race in a proper context if you feel it’s appropriate. But I think you’re 100% wrong about the reasons behind Craft’s appeal/’hype’.

    Take away his name, his race. Focus on his abilities as a player and a leader. Outstanding on defense, scrapping for every loose ball. An inconsistent outside jumper but a knack for getting the ball to the hole. Keeping teammates involved, topping his team in assists and steals. A player who can visibly excel without having to take 20 shots a game. Who does that describe? Craft? Yeah, maybe, even though I was actually writing about my memories of Mateen Cleaves a decade or so ago.

    I think you’re falling into a trap that many who follow basketball fall into, including reporters: if he’s not a prolific scorer, he’s just not that good. Being someone who’s watched dozens of players like that succeed in Coach Izzo’s program makes your comment even more surprising to me. Ask Izzo, or any coach in the country one question… would Craft be on the floor if he was playing for you… and see what the answer is.

    As an alum, I’m proud of Craft’s achievements on and off the court. He appears to be the kind of guy who will succeed in life, with or without a better outside touch. As a college sports fan, those are the kind of student-athletes I love to root for, be they black, scarlet, gray, green or white.

    Mark Scott
    Powell, OH
    tOSU ’81

  33. avatar scooter says:

    The error here is assuming its still 1962 and people don’t want to talk about race. Most people don’t mind discussing race when its relevant. But with Craft, race is not relevant. He’s just a damn good baller that is smarter than most of the people around him. The cerebral part of his game is top notch. You can drop superlative after superlative on this kid without ever addressing skin tone. But Graham felt the need to be ‘that guy’. He just comes across as butthurt because Craft owned the end if that game.

  34. avatar Ed Breehl says:

    Maybe Craft gets more hype than Appling because he owns him in head-to-head match-ups! In the seven games they’ve faced each other, Craft has scored more points (75-65), grabbed more rebounds (28-25), dished out more assists (30-14), grabbed more steals (19-10) and committed fewer turnovers (13-27). Does the ball know what color Aaron Craft’s skin and/or cheeks are?

  35. avatar Terrier says:

    Major respect for Keith Appling – a great player and a great leader. But when the writer says that Aaron Craft would not have received all the hype (such as preseason all-conference honors) “if he look(ed) like Appling,” then he invites a direct comparison between the two, and implies that perhaps Mr. Appling should have won the award.

    Perhaps. But in the 6 games they have played head-to-head (3 wins for each team), Aaron Craft is 20-48 from the field (42%), averaging 11.2 ppg, with 28 assists and 12 turnovers. Keith Appling is 19-50 (38%), 8.5 ppg, with 13 assists and 20 turnovers. Mr. Couch explains this away by revealing that Appling is just playing stupidly which, as we all know, is a trademark of one of the most dominant basketball programs for lo these past 18 years. The racist media then – not being blessed with Couch’s basketball acumen – compounds the problem by giving awards to Craft over his superior counterparts he has repeatedly outplayed.

    I’m not sure that Aaron Craft is better than Keith Appling. He’s just outplayed Keith Appling. And that just might be the reason he gets the awards and the hype – not the color of his skin.

    • avatar Ed Breehl says:

      I think you failed to include their head-to-head match-up in 2010-11 (as freshmen). Craft did not start that game, Appling did. OSU won and, again, Craft had better numbers across the board!

  36. avatar Ben says:

    Wow…Mark May of ESPN.

    • avatar Spartan 81 says:

      Ben is this confirmed that Graham was mentioned by Mark May of ESPN over this thread?? I dont want to report inaccurate information .

  37. avatar A fan who recognizes greatness on defense says:

    I don’t necessarily think your article is racist, but it is unquestionably too stupid for words. Craft is hailed as a preseason all-B1G player because he’s undoubtedly the best on-ball defender, and arguably the best defensive player period, in the country. He hustles as much as anyone in the country. He’s the leader, heart and soul of one of the best teams in the nation’s best conference. If you think that a player can only legitimately obtain accolades by scoring lots of points, that doesn’t make you racist… it just makes you an idiot.

  38. avatar MaxBuck says:

    The most racist comment I hear frequently about Aaron Craft is that he’s “not that talented.” Oh, really? He only excels because he works so doggone hard?

    News flash. I could work as hard as Craft and never sniff a D1 hardcourt. Bottom line is that Craft is plenty talented, as well as a hard worker. Deal with it.

  39. avatar Jeff in San Antonio says:

    I love the comment, “… seeing what it does to his confidence as an already suspect shooter. If he makes a few, so be it.” Let’s see here …. Keith Appling has made 117 of his 289 shots, a 40.5 percent average. So, what’s Craft doing? Let’s see, Aaron Craft has hit 89 of 222 shots for (get this now) … a 40.1 percentage. Appling, 40.5; Craft, 40.1. Not enough difference to be called “suspect shooting.” And what’s a point guard supposed to do — run the offense. Look at Appling’s assists-to-turnover ratio: 106 assists, 69 turnovers, a 1.5-to-1. Look at Craft’s assists-to-turnovers ratio: 119 assists, 50 turnovers, a 2.4-to-1. Craft obviously protects the ball better … and forces more turnovers and poor shot selection when he’s on defense. Your criticism is nothing but a “homer drone.” We hear you humming away …. loud and clear.

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