What a difference one season can make. If Marcus Smart would have entered last year’s draft he would have been in the discussion for the first overall pick. He had earned Big 12 Player of the Year honors and was seen as the top player in an otherwise underwhelming draft class. Instead, Smart opted to return to Oklahoma State for another season, and now finds himself unlikely to even be the first point guard to come off the board.
Back in April of last year when he announced his choice, Smart said, “There’s a lot of speculation going. I’ve been bashed and criticized that I probably made a mistake of coming back here, the NBA will be there, I should have took it, and this year’s draft class is much weaker than next year’s. But I think I made the right decision. All that was telling me, from those people that said that, is they don’t have confidence in my ability and my game to compete with those players next year. You guys have given me that confidence to do that, so I chose to stay here. I’m aware of how much money I am giving up.”
Smart’s sophomore numbers have remained mostly in line with his freshman production. He did raise his shooting percentage slightly, from .404 to .425, which helped him increase his scoring average, but everything else is nearly identical. This can be looked at a couple of ways. The positive spin is that he has shown remarkable consistency in his game and proved last season was no fluke. The negative perspective would be that he hasn’t shown much growth offensively in his second year. Smart’s season stats are 17.8 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 4.7 APG, and 2.8 SPG in 32.5 minutes per contest. His slash line is .425/.302/.736. His career numbers are 16.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 4.4 APG, and 2.9 SPG over 33.0 minutes. His career slash line is .414/.297/.756.
Shooting is the main aspect of Smart’s game that he will need to continue to improve on in order to become a more effective offensive player at the next level. He has solid form and looks to have good overall mechanics, but he is just not a consistent shooter at this stage in his development. He is a 30.3% spot-up shooter, 22% coming off of screens, and in isolation he shoots 30.8% from the field, according to NBA Draft Insider.com. Part of the issue is that Smart displays poor shot selection, which has been criticized during his college career. Smart would be better served to stop settling for long-range jump shots and to instead take better advantage of his explosiveness by driving to the basket more. He has shown a slight improvement in this area, raising his free throw attempts per game from 6.5 his freshman season to 7.7 this year.
Smart has the capability of playing either of the guard positions, but he’s spent most of his career at point guard. As a playmaker Smart is an excellent passer within the flow of an offense, but creating for teammates off the dribble isn’t his specialty. Smart is a score-first point guard. He’s also rates as just an average ball-handler, but he has improved in that area this season, cutting his turnovers from 3.4 to 2.5 per game.
His build is NBA ready, and at 6’4″, 220 pounds, he will be able to compete physically in the league right away. With his size and strength Smart is able to defend multiple positions. He has good body control and moves well with his man on or off the ball. When guarding ball-handlers he has shown quick hands that he uses to bother his man and force turnovers. When defending off the ball he tracks the ball well, gets in passing lanes to make plays, and applies timely double-teams to force turnovers. It is as a defender that Smart has the most immediate value in the NBA. His 3.4 steals per 40 minutes shows just how active a player he is on the defensive end. Smart has to use his basketball IQ and strength to his advantage as he isn’t the fastest player, and he may struggle against some of the quicker guards in the league.
Smart has shown flashes of immaturity during his time at Oklahoma State. There was an incident where he kicked a chair out of frustration during a game against West Virginia, which was a relatively minor flare-up. The major incident occurred a few weeks later during a game versus Texas Tech, when Smart pushed a vocal Red Raiders fan. The fan reportedly used a racial slur toward Smart, but the NCAA still suspended the point guard for three contests. “Unfortunately for Smart, there is going to be a fallout after this,” an NBA executive told Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports. “His reputation has taken a hit. That is all people and the media are going to want to talk about with him before and after the draft. Some teams won’t want to deal with that.” Yet when asked if the push affects Smart’s draft stock, an NBA GM told Spears that his decline on draft boards was solely because of concerns about his game.
NBA teams have shown a willingness to overlook incidents like these in lieu of talent. Smart also just turned 20 years old on March 6th, and he has plenty of time to mature. Based on recent mock drafts, Smart is still projected to be a top-10 pick. NBADraft.net has him being taken fourth, Draft Express has him sixth, and Smart also currently sits sixth on Chad Ford of ESPN.com‘s Big Board.
While he doesn’t have the unlimited raw athleticism of some of the other prospects in this draft, Smart’s strength and explosiveness coupled with his understanding of the game should assure him of being drafted in the middle of the lottery. There are no questions about his drive or overall skill set, but he’ll have to significantly improve his outside shot to be a star at the next level. Smart will also have to show he has matured and developed a thicker skin to quiet down any talk of him being a risky selection. Scouts have compared his game to Baron Davis and Jason Kidd‘s, and Draft Insider.com has projected his “ceiling” as Dwyane Wade and his “basement” as Marcus Banks. His ability to defend both guard positions will make him valuable, and that should guarantee him a roster spot for years, but if he can’t improve his outside shooting, he won’t achieve greatness at the next level.