The 21-year-old junior from Brooklyn, N.Y., has averaged 18.1 points, 2.9 assists and 2.1 steals per contest this season.
He elevated his game for the Big East and NCAA tournaments on both ends of the floor, willing his way to the hoop and doing everything possible to stifle opposing backcourts.
Smith's numbers from the Big Dance are staggering: 26 points per game, 3.3 steals per game and 54 percent shooting. His ambition and success on the college hardwood are undeniable, but how does "Russdiculous" project to the NBA?
Speed and aggression are the hallmarks of Smith's game. He excels as a slasher, transition scorer and pressure defender.
Not only does he possess a lightning-quick first step, but his second and third steps are equally blistering. In the halfcourt setting, all it takes is a small crack in the defense for him to burst to the rim and use his agility to get off a shot.
Smith is nearly impossible to corral in transition, as he goes end to end as fast as anyone.
As a scorer, there's not a shot he doesn't like. The positive side effects are his ability to shoot off the catch or the dribble and his flexibility to drive right or left. He's adept at shielding with his body, fighting through contact and using his elusiveness to dart around defenders.
Smith uses that same quickness to apply bothersome pressure on opposing ball-handlers. He can stay in front of anyone, and his speed allows him to make aggressive plays with his hands and force turnovers.
He has a tremendous feel for when to pickpocket foes and when to deflect passes, and that's reflected in his career Big East-leading steal percentage of 5.2. NBA executives will consider his value as a tenacious on-ball defender coming off the bench.
Just as his ambition and aggression produce his strengths, they also expose his flaws.
His confidence and proclivity to score frequently leads him to trouble, as he drives into a wall of defenders with no way out.
Smith seems to have a one-track mind through his first two or three dribbles, and by the time he realizes he should pass, it's too late.
DraftExpress.com's Mike Schmitz assembled a revealing series of clips that show just how shaky the Cardinals star is from a facilitating standpoint:
The other major deficiency in Smith's style of play is his decision-making and shot selection. He is exceedingly aggressive and often fails to remember what a "quality" or "high-percentage" shot is.
Someone with his shooting skills should be converting more than 33 percent of his threes. The only reason Russ shoots a below-average percentage is because he attempts countless shots with high degrees of difficulty.
This questionable shot selection also includes his drives to the rim, where he often bites off more than he can chew. At 6'1", he needs to better understand when he is overmatched physically.
Despite his high conversion rate in the tournament, he's going to need to demonstrate a lot of discipline in pre-draft camps and tournaments.
Intangibles: The Good and Bad
Smith's positive intangibles lie in his confidence and toughness for someone his size.
He has a determination, creativity and strength to finish plays that most other diminutive guards can't pull off. When his team is in a funk, he's not afraid to take over and make plays.
During the 2013 tourney, he's shown impressive toughness and leadership in overcoming his illness and leading Louisville to victory.
That same determination is committed on the defensive side. Smith, along with his backcourt comrade, Peyton Siva, constantly wear down opposing guards throughout the course of games. It often leads to a late-game edge for the Cardinals.
The wild-card intangible for potential coaches or executives is his unpredictable choices.
While I'm sure general managers love his enterprising approach, they are also wary of giving him the reins to their offense (especially because he's not a pure point guard).
NBA Player Comparison and Ideal Role
From a size and speed perspective, It's hard not to think of Charlotte Bobcats point guard Kemba Walker. The two have similar transition speed, start-and-stop quickness and, most importantly, scoring determination.
Due to his inferior floor general skills and shooting execution, Smith only projects to match Walker in a best-case scenario.
He's also being compared to Atlanta Hawks guard Lou Williams, one of the best bench scorers in the NBA. Even though they aren't the same player, Williams' role is something he should strive for. A worst-case scenario for Smith is an inefficient, unproductive version of Williams.
The best ex-NBA comparison is a perennial All-Star:
It's hard to watch Russ Smith and not think of Allen Iverson. If anyone's draft stock has raised it's his.— Tyler R. Tynes (@RealTylerTynes) March 31, 2013
While Smith is still figuring how to run an NBA offense possession by possession, he's best suited as a bench sparkplug. He'll supply airtight defense on most plays and direct the offense in the open floor.
His two-year goal should be double-digit production off the bench. Once he proves he can take care of a pro offense for a substantial stretches, then it's time to think about Kemba-type impact.
Overall 2013 Draft Outlook
Smith's short stature and below-average point guard skills pretty much keep him out of the first round of the draft.
On a positive note, his sensational tournament has turned him from a largely undrafted prospect to an attractive second-round option.
No one looking for a starting guard is going to select him. But those franchises looking to add depth and energy in the backcourt would be foolish not to take a flyer on him.
Expect him to get snagged late in the second round by the Indiana Pacers, Phoenix Suns or Orlando Magic, with Orlando being our official projection.
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