Marcus Smart should be the clear favorite to be drafted #1 overall in 2014.
It seems everyone talking and writing about College Basketball with their eye on the top NBA prospects are only focusing on the freshman; Duke’s Jabari Parker, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, Kentucky’s Julius Randle and now the Jayhawks surprise Center Joel Embiid. But, they’d be better served to pay closer attention to Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart.
The 6-4 220 pound point guard surprised NBA front office decision makers when he decided to return to Stillwater Oklahoma for his sophomore season. Mock drafts had him as a top two pick in 2013. All he’s done in his second collegiate campaign is up his scoring to 17 ppg, maintain his 5.8 rpg and 4.2 apg stat line and leading the OSU Cowboys to a top 10 ranking, while turning them into a legitimate NCAA title contender.
But as far as the pro ranks, he should be a top of the draft boards of at least four of the six teams who are at the bottom of the NBA standings, because none of them have a dynamic playmaking point guard, which is what Smart is.
The NBA is in the golden era of point guards, much in the way the 1980s were for big men. Point guards in the NBA are like Quarterbacks in Football. If you don’t have an all star or franchise one, you’re probably not winning. See the Milwaukee Bucks (worse record in the NBA at 8-35), Orlando Magic (2nd worse record in NBA at 12-33), Sacramento Kings (15-28) and the LA Lakers (16-29). The three other teams near the bottom of the league standings—Boston, Philadelphia and Utah—have franchise caliber point guards who are just getting started. In the case of the Celtics, Rajon Rondo is just returning from ACL surgery and the Sixers and Jazz are breaking in 2013 Lottery Picks Michael Carter Williams and Trey Burke. The other four teams at the bottom I mentioned should be targeting Marcus Smart.
In this NBA you need a point guard to go against Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and Deron Williams when healthy. Then there’s the second tier guys like Mike Conley Junior, Damion Lillard, Jeff Teague and John Wall. Like I said, point guard in the NBA is like quarterback in the NFL, You need an elite or near elite caliber player at the position to compete for titles. Unless you’re the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers who’s point guards are 6’8 forwards with point guard skills.
Smart averages 17.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game.
Smart returned to school to improve his game, not necessarily his draft stock. What I’ve seen from him is a more confident shooter—he shoots 43% in 2013 vs. 40% in 2012—but looks to take jumpers instead of barreling the lane for lay ups. His 5.7 rebounds and 4.4 assist per game are consistent with his freshman season. He’s a better defender and passionate leader. He has the size and skill to post up on the block, speed and athleticism to run an uptempo style of play. All qualities you want in a “face of the franchise.” In year two he’s proving what he did as a freshman was no fluke. When I watch this season’s crop of potential one and done players he may be up against for top billing in this coming June’s draft, he’s head and shoulders above. Many of them are struggling to adapt to the college game while he’s consistently dominating.
The only knock on Smart from scouts at this point is his attitude, which personally I don’t see as an issue. He has a tendency to display his displeasure in his body language on the court and sideline when it appears things aren’t going his or his team’s way. But, that really isn’t a problem. He’s not going off on teammates, coaches or referees. The emotion I’ve seen is mostly a show of passion for the game. Sure he kicked a chair a couple of times in the game against West Virginia when he was struggling. That’s passion, not an attitude problem. He’s 19 years of age and he did apologize for his actions immediately. This will pass. But, if a team in need of a point guard at the top of the 2014 NBA draft passes on him, they’ll regret it like the Atlanta Hawks did in 2005 when they passed on Deron Williams and Chris Paul for Marvin Williams. How did that turn out for everyone involved? Marvin Williams is arguably one of the biggest #2 overall bust in NBA history, and everyone linked to his selection with the Hawks are long gone. By the way, the Bucks took Andrew Bogut #1 that year. That could explain why they are where they are now as well.
So Bucks, Magic, Lakers and Kings, you’re all on the clock. If he declares for the 2014 NBA Draft, make the Smart choice.