Marcus Smart continues to take risks this offseason—or, as I like to call it, he keeps betting on himself.
The latest Smart gamble is his addition to the USA Basketball National Team mini-camp roster on Tuesday. Smart is the only college player on the 29-man roster that will train in Las Vegas from July 22-24 and play in an intra-squad game on July 25.
The point of the mini-camp is for the U.S. coaches and chairman Jerry Colangelo to evaluate these players for consideration on the Olympic team. Smart will go up against NBA point guards Kyrie Irving, Mike Conley, Ty Lawson, Damian Lillard, John Wall, Kemba Walker and Jrue Holiday.
The reward is that if he holds his own, he improves his stock as an NBA prospect. The risk is that he’s exposed.
That's a risk Smart willingly accepted when he decided to return to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season.
Smart likely would have been a top five pick in this draft—maybe even No. 1—and next year's draft figures to be loaded. Every decision like this could cost him money. The longer you stick around in college, the more time you give scouts to find holes in your game.
The warts for Smart continue to show. He's a poor three-point shooter. He turns the ball over too often. Part of what makes him great is his focus on the defensive end and how he plays in crunch time, but his occasional lapses in focus lead to some sloppy giveaways.
We saw both of those weaknesses during the U-19 FIBA World Championship this summer. He was 6-of-21 from the perimeter for the tournament. He had 13 turnovers in nine games—not awful—but one of the few times he went up against a team with legit guards, against Canada in the quarters, he turned it over four times.
Those are weaknesses that can be fixed, particularly the turnovers, and playing against great competition when you need to be locked in at all times could benefit Smart. He was often at his best as a freshman against the best competition. At the U-19 tourney, he averaged 16 points in the final two rounds.
Smart's play in that tournament was not always spectacular—he was his team's fifth-leading scorer—but he obviously did enough to impress those in charge of USA Basketball. Getting the invite to this mini-camp is the ultimate praise.
"It is a great honor to be invited to participate with the USA Men's National Team," Smart said in an OSU release. "The other players at the mini-camp are NBA professionals who I look up to and respect. I'm excited to learn from them and to compete against them."
That last part—he's excited to compete—captures what everyone loves about Smart. He never backs down from a challenge.
Smart didn't have to play this summer for the U-19 team. He didn't have to accept this invite. He didn't have to come back to school.
That's something worth admiring these days when most players want to get to the pros before their stock has a chance to plummet.
Whether Smart plays well at the mini-camp or not, simply getting the invite and going says a lot about the player.