They've each had some rough stretches. Possessions, halves, games, months. Both Kansas' Andrew Wiggins and Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart have struggled this season with inconsistency.
Their weaknesses are obvious—anyone could have seen them in Oklahoma State's 72-65 win over Kansas, when their flaws were exposed and easily detectable.
But despite the mishaps and questionable plays, both Wiggins and Smart were able to showcase what differentiates them from the pack of 2014 eligible draft prospects.
Their big-time appeal was flashed in blinding fashion, even if it was quick. Wiggins, the 6'8" freak athlete that he is, made some plays that simply drive the hype toward his NBA ceiling. And Smart did the same, only in his own way.
But before dipping into Smart's current draft stock, it's important to note what powered it in the first place.
As a freshman in 2012-13, Smart had been one of those guys whose stat sheets got tossed out of the window. Nobody seemed to care he shot below 30 percent from downtown or that he sported an uninspiring 4.2-3.4 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Smart earned himself the reputation as a floor general and leader—a guy you can trust to command the offense and make the necessary play at the right time.
Against Kansas, I'd be lying if I said Smart wasn't brutally bad in the first 30 minutes of the game. From reckless drives to forced jumpers on the perimeter, his shot selection and decision-making were awful. A Marcus Smart skeptic would have had a field day with his first-half results, which saw him shoot 0-of-7 with two turnovers.
But Smart's allure centers around intangibles as opposed to box scores—specifically his ability to actively take control of a game and individually impact the results when it matters. And that's exactly what he did down the stretch against Kansas.
On the other hand, Wiggins' attraction stems from his long-term potential. He has Paul George's size and athleticism. While his current offensive game is a work in progress, his two-way ceiling is limitless.
Wiggins missed some opportunities against Oklahoma State, but he made some plays that likely had scouts drooling on their notebooks.
And the key one came with Kansas down two and just over two minutes remaining in the game. He went into attack mode, hitting Smart one-on-one with two hard dribbles before pulling up and separating into a jumper.
It's a go-to type of NBA shot. Wiggins clearly has the size, athleticism and quickness to separate whenever he wants, so to see him go for it in the clutch and convert is a very promising sign. Just imagine if he can start creating and hitting this shot on a routine basis—it's one of those unguardable shots that separates the good from the great.
Wiggins actually missed 11 shots and made five against Oklahoma State, but it's the quality of his makes that will allow scouts to overlook the quantity of his misses.
Like Wiggins, Smart's strengths speak louder than his weaknesses. He stunk in the first half but absolutely took control late in the game, converting 14 points in the final 12 minutes.
He was knocking down everything from pull-up jumpers to strong takes to the rack. In between, he made the hustle plays that prompted many to label him a keeper and a winner to begin with.
"After the game, I told him he's a piece of work," Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford told The Associated Press (via ESPN). "You have to stick with him, because he's going to make plays. He's a competitor. That's what he did. He was huge down the stretch."
In a must-win game against Kansas, Smart turned it up under pressure, single-handedly taking control of his team and command of its offense. Smart showed some poise, running the pick-and-roll with ease in a key spot:
Smart also demonstrated his takeover ability. Despite his poor shooting percentage, he stepped up and hit a huge pull-up three-pointer to take the lead with under four minutes left:
CBS Sports' Matt Norlander expects this to resonate with Smart as one of his "strongest, happiest memories."
In terms of both players' full body of work throughout the game, it wasn't their best. Wiggins finished just 5-of-16 shooting, while Smart ended up 5-of-14. And we've seen this from both of them throughout their short college careers.
Still, with Wiggins and Smart, the ups are likely to outweigh the downs when it comes to evaluations and projections.
In their second head-to-head meeting of the season, they flashed their strengths and weaknesses as NBA prospects. But when breaking them down and analyzing them, it's important to appreciate what they're capable of before docking them for what they're currently not.
It's probable that we'll continue to see their flaws as NBA prospects. But as long as they keep flashing the strengths that have gotten scouts excited in the first place, those weaknesses aren't likely to allow their stocks to dip too much.
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