The upcoming draft features a ton of talent, but many of these young players are praised for their potential more than their actual production at this point. However, there are some players who are ready to produce at the NBA level from day one. The player who will have the biggest impact next year, in my opinion, is Marcus Smart.
Today’s NBA is loaded with top-level point guards. That means that on any given night, a team will need a player who can slow down these talented guards. This is where Smart can make an immediate impact.
At the NBA Combine, Smart measured 6’3.25 in shoes with a 6’9.25 wingspan, and weighed in at 227 pounds. Smart has the size to match up with point guards as big as John Wall and Russell Westbrook, and the speed to stay in front of the quicker guards like Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe.
While Smart won’t lock down these point guards every single night, he will make life difficult for them. Westbrook may be able to score while guarded by Smart, but he will likely have a tough shooting night from the field and he’ll have to work for those points, which is pretty much all you can hope for against a player like Westbrook. For a team that struggles to defend against opposing point guards – such as the Los Angeles Lakers, who ran Kendall Marshall, Jordan Farmar and Steve Nash at point guard this season – Smart would make a significant impact immediately. He is also the type of point guard who can play alongside another point guard since he is big enough and strong enough to guard some NBA shooting guards, similar to Jarrett Jack.
In addition to slowing down point guards, Smart also plays the passing lanes very well, evidenced by his 2.9 steals per game last season. This is important because Smart is very tough to stop in the open court and when he drives the ball to the rim. With his size, Smart is able to bull his way through opposing players and finish at the rim, or make an easy pass to an open teammate. Smart won’t be able to do this as easily against NBA players, but with his size, he already stands over many of the best guards in the league.
Smart also draws contact well, as he averaged 9.9 free throws per 40-minutes. This will help him score at the next level, especially if he can improve on his 72.8 percent free throw percentage, which is likely considering he shot 77 percent from the free throw line as a freshman. While Smart will score attacking the basket and from the free throw line, his outside shooting does need work.
Too often Smart settles for tough jumpers, which defenses dare him to make. While his shooting mechanics are decent, his 29.9 percentage from beyond the arc is an issue. However, many prospects suffer from issues in their shooting mechanics entering the league, but they are often corrected with the help of shooting coaches. Though perimeter shooting is not a strength for Smart, it won’t affect his ability to contribute from day one, as Smart managed a 55 percent true shooting percentage last season, showing that his shaky perimeter shooting is offset by his ability to score in other ways efficiently.
Perhaps the biggest reason why Smart will be able to make a big impact from day one in the NBA is because of how versatile he is. Smart averaged 5.9 rebounds per game, a great number for a point guard. Smart isn’t just big at his position, but he also knows how to use his size effectively against his opponents. He uses his size to fight with bigger players for rebounds and move the ball in transition. He uses his ability to attack the rim as a means to set up teammates for easy layups, or wide open shots on the perimeter (he averaged 4.8 assists per game). He does not need to score to have a significant impact, as he can rebound, run the offense, get his teammates involved and check other point guards. But just in case a team does need Smart to score, he can do that as well, as he averaged 18 points per game last season.
With two years in college, unlike most of the other top prospects, Smart is ahead of the curve. Almost all of his stats improved in his second season at Oklahoma State and he has more experience than his colleagues. However, Smart was suspended for three games in February for shoving a fan during a game. The hope is that Smart learned from the incident, and will be able to handle those situations more appropriately moving forward.
Whoever drafts Smart will get a tough competitor, defender and multi-skilled player. Smart would be an especially good pick for the Lakers, who need a point guard to build around. He could learn from Kobe Bryant over the next two seasons, and take his game to another level. Smart will likely succeed wherever he ends up though, as he is a complete package with an NBA ready skill-set. In fact, don’t be surprised if Smart wins Rookie of the Year next season.
– Jesse Blancarte