Marcus Smart is the next big name in line on my series documenting the likely stars of the 2014 NBA Draft. As with before, comments, criticism, and disagreements are very much welcome. Everybody sees players differently (see: Hasheem Thabeet, Andre Drummond, Shabazz Muhammad), and it always interesting to get other opinions.
BACKGROUND: Marcus Smart is more along the typical storyline for a highly-touted college player. He dominated in high school and primarily played SG early on, earning McDonald's All-American honors and ultimately finishing as the 10th best prospect in both the ESPN and Rivals rankings. As he was used to having the ball in his hands, Smart developed into a PG/SG combo at Oklahoma State and was in the running for the top overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. Smart, however, was unhappy with how his freshman career ended, and felt that he had more to learn and prove. He decided to stay for his sophomore year and is now in the running for a top-5, but surely top-10, pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
- Size and Strength. For a PG, Smart has great size. He is 6'4" and 225 lbs, a bit taller and generally much stronger than all opposing PG's. He had little trouble in college using his body to his advantage and has dominated smaller guards. As a PG, his size would be a great advantage in the NBA.
- Penetrating the Lane. Smart's bread and butter is penetrating the lane. Using his strength and size, he has found it easy to attack the basket at will. He can power his way to the basket at seemingly any time and can finish with contact. Besides sheer power, Smart will often split the defenders, use screens, and use spin moves to make his way to the basket, giving him a variety of ways to get inside. Smart also uses his penetrating ability to kick the ball out to the open shooters on the wing, as he does not always drive with the sole intent of scoring.
- Getting to the Line. One of Smart's biggest strength is getting to the line. As he attacks the rim often and does not shy away from contact, Smart finds himself at the line very often. He is averaging about 6.5 free throws per 30 minutes and has been decent at hitting them (78% freshman year, 68% sophomore year).
- Passing Ability. While Smart is not a pass-first player, he has great passing instincts and can hit the open man at a great rate. He sees the floor well and, although he looks to score often, is a willing passer. He is great in pick-and-roll situations and, as mentioned, great at kicking the ball out after penetrating the lane. He is averaging 4 assists per 30 his sophomore year on a team that relies on him to score to win.
- Active Defensively. Smart is a willing defender, unlike most prospects. He tries to get involved and make it tough for his man, always pressuring him and getting up in his face. Smart is also very active with his hands, averaging a little under 3 steals per 30 minutes. He does tend to gamble a bit too much, however, racking up fouls, but this comes with the territory. He is great at anticipating passes, quickly turning predictable ones into fast break opportunities.
Good Rebounder. Smart, with a strong frame, has used it to his advantage to corral 4.5 rebounds per 30 minutes. This is excellent for a PG, giving the team another willing body to crash the boards. He is not afraid to get in with the big guys and muscle down a rebound, especially when his team needs one.
- Great Leader/Competitor. One of Smart's biggest assets is his personality. He is a natural leader who is always willing to take the blame, get his teammates involved, and make everyone comfortable. Smart has been said to be great in the locker room, keeping everyone on the same page and together. He is also a tenacious competitor, always busting for the win and hating the losses, which has been catchy with his teammates. These are important attributes for someone who would likely be playing the lead-guard position in the NBA.
- Shooting. While quickly improving, Smart is still not a good shooter. He has improved his FG% from last year to this year (from about 40% to about 47%), but that's more due to his ability to pick better shots and finish better at the rim. He is a poor mid-range shooter as well as from the three (31% this year). His mechanics do look good, however, so fixing this issue should not be too drastic. In general, however, this is a problem for him. He is better at hitting shots off the dribble than catching-and-shooting (which he has been dreadful at), but that's still not saying much. This will need to improve if he wants to take his game to the next level.
- Athleticism. While he has had a lot of success scoring and running the team in college, he is just an okay athlete. He is a little slow laterally, is an okay leaper, isn't very quick, has an okay first step, and overall, isn't very explosive. His biggest strength has been his strength and size, which has allowed him to dominate in the collegiate level, but he lacks elite athleticism. He isn't great in any area athletically, but also isn't poor in any of them; just so-so.
- How does he Translate to the NBA? Some are concerned how is game will translate because of both how he plays and what position he plays. Smart was originally a fairly ball-dominant SG who started to learn how to be a PG in college. While he is a willing passer, Smart is naturally a scorer. Will he be able to continue the transition to PG into the NBA, or will he be too ball-dominant to truly be effective at that position? He is a little too short to play SG (6'4") but his game is a little more ball-dominant than it should be for a PG. The other concern regarding how he translates to the NBA is how he plays the game. He used his strength and size to bully PG's in the collegiate game, but will that work in the NBA? Players are much stronger and quicker, and great defenders and shot-blockers (see: Ibaka, Bogut, Davis, Howard, etc.) will be waiting at the rim if he gets that far. He isn't a layup machine like Tyreke Evans and is a poor shooter, leaving one big question: What exactly will be his game plan in the NBA? Position-wise and game-wise, how he translates will be a big issue to consider.
- Guarding Quicker Players. While very active on defense, Smart has had trouble staying in front of quicker players. Matching up strength-for-strength is not an issue, but the smaller and speedy guys often get by him fairly easily. The athletes only get better at the NBA level, so it will be very interesting to see how he handles defending his man one-on-one. Without great team-defense or shot-blocking, this could be an issue for teams.
- Turnover Prone. With the ball in his hand almost all the time, it is expected that there will be turnovers. He has averages about 3 per 30 minutes, and has done so in a variety of ways: charges, careless passes, and in general, forcing plays that just aren't there. Smart is also a little lazy with the ball and needs to tighten his handling, as he has the tendency to dribble too high or out in front of him at times. He is, however, still learning the PG position, so mistakes are going to happen. As long as he continues to improve his decision making, one can only expect him to get better in this department.
OVERALL ASSESSMENT: Marcus Smart, although listed as a PG by most, is really a combo-guard by trade. He can handle the ball, run a team, use his fearlessness to will his team to victory, score, and set up his teammates. As a PG, he still has quite a bit to learn. He is not the type of PG that could just "fit in" with a team already full of scorers and play-makers. He is a lead-guard who likes and needs the ball in his hands to be effective. He does not provide much off the ball, especially with his shooting. A good comparison would be a not-as-athletic Dwyane Wade or a James Harden. Smart's build is very similar to Wade's (same height and almost same weight), but Wade's athleticism is what propels him to stardom. Harden is not nearly as flashy but effective at driving to the rim, giving hope for Smart in that department, but Smart is also expected to be a PG, not a SG. Both Wade and Harden are very similar to Smart game-wise (both can run a team, drive hard to the rim, hit the open man, score, and do a little of everything), but both are also SG's, not PG's. In this new era, however, there are more combo backcourts rather than the traditional PG and SG setup (see: Curry/Thompson, Wade/Chalmers, Westbrook/Sefalosha, Harden/Beverly, etc.), so perhaps he will continue that trend. Will he continue his PG training and make the transition? Can he continue to succeed in the NBA with average athleticism and a sketchy jump shot? It's anyone's guess. If his jump shot remains unreliable, he could end up as a different version of Tyreke Evans. If he can add it to his arsenal, his ceiling suddenly vaults upwards. Most believe he will do well as a PG, which is why he is rated highly by the majority. One thing is for sure: The skill is there, but how it develops is the question.
Smart vs. an average Purdue team. This is one of those games that Smart simply took over from the perimeter. While this has been uncommon, he is still improving, and this shows just how dangerous he can be if he nails it down.
Smart vs. a mediocre South Florida team. This game highlights his driving and attacking ability, as well as athleticism that looks good against players that aren't as athletic as top tier programs.