The best one-and-should-have-been-done NBA prospect spent draft night on Thursday in Prague, Czech Republic.
Marcus Smart was beating up on the Ivory Coast at the FIBA U19 World Championships instead of shaking hands with David Stern in Brooklyn.
Had Smart been in Brooklyn, the Oklahoma State sophomore-to-be may have been shaking hands with David Stern when Orlando picked second. Or, you never know, some team might have been inclined to trade Cleveland for the first pick for the opportunity to draft Smart No. 1 overall.
Thursday’s draft, and the surprise of UNLV’s Anthony Bennett going No. 1, brought up the question again: Why did Marcus Smart stay in school?
Think about all of the players we criticize for leaving too early, and appreciate Smart for being different.
Listen to his logical explanation, which he gave Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News last week.
I'm a 6-4, 220-pound point guard. That's unheard of. I wanted to learn the game, learn the position a lot more before I go up and make it my job. I want to get more advice on what to do and just more experience at it.
My jump shot: I've still got to improve on that. Because a lot of guys are just going to play off me, force me to shoot it. Especially at the next level, you have to able to knock that down to keep defenses honest, to open up the lane for me and open up the drives so I can make plays for my teammates.
Smart’s perspective is refreshing. He sounds like someone devoted to his craft that NBA teams would be happy to employ. Too many players get the other message: “Learn on the job, and get paid son. You just don’t pass up that kind of money. You just don’t take that kind of risk.”
For Smart, if there is a risk involved to staying in school, it is the money. Smart would have been guaranteed somewhere around $4 million next year had he gone first or second in the draft, and that’s not including endorsements.
No matter how much he improves, next year’s stronger draft class will likely bump him down a few spots. Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman has Smart going sixth; DraftExpress.com has Smart slotted at fourth and CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish has Smart projected in the fifth spot.
The difference between second and fifth, according to the NBA Salary Scale and Hoopsworld.com is approximately $1 million.
Who knows if anyone broke down the dollar amounts for Smart like that, but it’s clear he wasn’t oblivious to what his decision meant for his immediate future.
"It took me a long time. I actually cried about it. It’s a hard decision for an 18-year-old kid, seeing that much money thrown at him, able to turn it down," Smart told DeCourcy. "It’s unthinkable. It’s unheard of. Nobody’s ever done that: a top-five draft pick turning that much money down, guaranteed, to come back to school for another year."
This is where Smart lacks some perspective. Blake Griffin returned for his sophomore season at Oklahoma when he would have been a high lottery pick. Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer all would have been high picks in 2006 after winning the national title and decided to return to Florida to try to repeat. Tim Duncan, who would have been coveted at any point in his college career, kept coming back to school year after year until he graduated from Wake Forest.
"Nobody’s ever done that” is a stretch, but it is extremely rare in this one-and-done era.
Those guys were willing to be different. They gambled on themselves, and it worked out for all of them. As I wrote back in April when Smart made the decision, he is doing the same. He’s gambling on himself.
Smart believes he’s not going to hurt the perception of what he can be in the league. He’s believes that he will be able to improve. And shame on him, he still wants to be in school. He still feels like he has unfinished business at Oklahoma State—a team with top-10 talent—after losing to Oregon in the Round of 64 of the NCAA tournament in 2013.
“We have a chance to do something great, strive for a national championship,” Smart told DeCourcy. “We have the talent. We have the determination to do that.”
So if you’re tallying up the reasons to stay: Smart gets to spend one more year being a kid, attempt to achieve some goals he hasn’t accomplished yet and be more ready for the league than he is now.
The economics of his decision might not make sense, but the practicality of it does.