There's something about Marcus.
A former McDonald's All-American, Marcus Smart led his high school team to back-to-back Texas Class 5A state championships. He then finished his pre-college career with a gold medal at the Under-18 F.I.B.A. World Championships.
Call it a coincidence, or a direct correlation.
If you've never seen Smart play, you could probably recognize his presence watching highlights on an iPhone. He stands out visually.
When I was his age, I looked like Screech from Saved by the Bell. Smart looks like he's been working out since he was four years old and can build a house with his bare hands. You just don't see this type of on-court maturity, both physically and mentally, from college freshmen.
In just his fourth collegiate game, Smart went head-to-head with North Carolina State junior Lorenzo Brown, widely believed to be the best pure point guard prospect out there. That belief is now in question.
The 6'4'', 225-pound Smart gave the 6'5'', 185-pound Brown a metaphorical "wedgie" before stealing his lunch money and shoving him in a locker. It was brutal.
Smart went for 20 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, four blocks and four steals, shutting Brown down to six points, one assist and seven excruciating turnovers.
He overwhelmed Brown the way James Harden devours his man with aggression on both sides of the ball.
They're both extremely high-basketball-IQ guys, seemingly always involved in the plays that result in two- or three-point baskets. Sometimes it's the pass before the assist that really deserves the credit; whether it be a skip or dribble-hand-off, every move Smart and Harden make appears to have purpose.
Defense to Offense
As two-way guards, neither rest on defense. Both are active, relentless defenders looking to make plays on the ball.
Here's Marcus Smart making a steal on one end and going coast-to-coast for the James Harden-esque euro-step finish on the other.
He's also an exceptional athlete, capable of finishing at the rim using his physical gifts and coordination.
Again, he makes a play on the defensive side of the ball and gets down the floor to finish acrobatically in transition.
Below is Smart recognizing the mismatch and using his size and offensive skills to create his own shot.
Smart has Harden's three-point range, and while he's used to playing on the ball, here's an example of his shooting touch as an off-ball spot-up threat:
It might be his best overall skill. Marcus Smart is a quick, decisive passer, who, like Harden, can finish with 20 points and 10 assists on any given night.
In the way James Harden is a complete combo guard as a scorer and facilitator, Marcus Smart can wear the same label.
Though Jeremy Lin is listed as the Rockets' starting point guard, James Harden has the ball in his hands for a good portion of the game. That's likely to be the case with Smart, as you just can't afford to go without giving him a touch during a possession.
At this point in their careers, Harden has evolved into more of a scorer, while Smart is more of a point guard. But the Oklahoma State freshman looks like he'll eventually have the option.
James Harden is a comparable and fitting player for Marcus Smart to model his on-court future after. With similar capabilities and a draft filled with question marks, Smart could be a top-five sleeper based on his upside and glowing reputation.