If there is ever a history class taught on the NBA draft, Marcus Smart's 2013 decision to return to Oklahoma State should have its own chapter in the textbook.
Smart was a top-three lock last June. He had the chance to strike and ultimately cash in with his stock having peaked.
And the crazy part was that there were holes in his game that nobody seemed to care about. Despite shooting 40.4 percent from the floor and 29 percent from downtown while sporting a lousy 4.2-3.4 assist-to-turnover ratio, Smart was still pegged as a gem and can't-miss prospect.
All you heard about was his competitiveness, leadership and intangibles. Who cares that he can't shoot or that he couldn't win a game in the NCAA tournament or that he lacks a natural NBA position?
Well, now people do.
One year of poor shooting might not scare anyone away. But two years in a row might. Smart shot below 30 percent from downtown for the second straight season as a sophomore, while his free-throw percentage fell to just 72.8 percent and his field-goal percentage saw a marginal boost to 42.2 percent.
The shoving incident with a fan in the stands at Texas Tech didn't help his stock much, either. You can bet on executives and high-level decision-makers grilling him with questions about it during the interview process.
And again—it just wasn't a good look that Smart failed to earn a win in the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row. This is a guy whose allure has been powered by his reputation as a winner, after he took down two state championships back in high school.
Smart's stock isn't where it was a year ago, regardless of whether you view his weaknesses as serious flaws or minor details.
Last year, he would have been competing for draft position with guys like Nerlens Noel, who had a torn ACL, Anthony Bennett, who was coming off shoulder surgery, Alex Len, who had just had foot surgery, Victor Oladipo, Otto Porter and Cody Zeller.
Like I said earlier—Smart was a top-three lock.
This year, with Kansas' Andrew Wiggins, and potentially his teammate Joel Embiid and Duke's Jabari Parker in the mix, the top three could already be closed off.
Australia's Dante Exum, who plays the same position as Smart yet owns a ceiling a few stories higher, along with Kentucky's Julius Randle and Indiana's Noah Vonleh, are going to make it just as tough for Smart to even crack this year's top six.
Personally, I've got Smart right there at No. 7. And I'm sure some general managers have him in that five-to-seven range as well, while others likely have him closer to the 7-to-10 range.
ESPN's Chad Ford recently reported (subscription required) that "Not everyone was on board with him being a lottery pick."
While that seems a little extreme, the fact is that Smart's stock did take a hit as a sophomore. He'll be entering a 2014 draft with a much deeper and more talented field than last year's, and given the bizarre season he's coming off, it's probably going to cost him.
Take a look at the NBA rookie salary scale for those drafted in the lottery. And then notice the drop in value as you slowly move down the board:
|Rookie Salary Scale|
|Pick||1st Year Salary||2nd Year Salary||3rd Year Option Salary|
Depending on how far he falls from the top three, Smart is likely to end up having left millions of dollars on the table.
But don't get it twisted—Smart still projects as a solid NBA prospect. At 6'4", 220 pounds, he can be relentless and overwhelming at both ends of the floor, qualities his 2.9 steals and 8.1 free-throw attempts per game reflect.
His attack game is awesome, as he consistently plays through contact on the way to the rim and around it. And he's even improved his decision-making as a passer, as his assist rate increased and his turnovers decreased.
Smart is a legitimate two-way combo guard who can run an offense or score from the wing. He did average 18 points this year to go with 4.8 dimes, while finishing No. 3 in the country in steals per game.
“I had a great season here at Oklahoma State,” Smart told John Helsley of The Oklahoman. “It’s weird, because I didn’t go to the NBA Draft last year, I chose to come back – which I do not regret at all. A lot of people say I made the wrong decision. But who are they to tell me what I should have done? It’s me, not them."
But after two seasons of poor shooting, questionable pass-to-shot selection (averaged under five assists each season with poor field-goal percentages) and underachieving from a team-performance perspective, I'm not sure Smart is viewed as the NBA franchise floor general many pegged him as last year.
Maybe Smart did make the right decision. Maybe he'll be a little more prepared for life at the NBA level having played two full seasons in college. But it's not going to change his 2014 draft stock, which just isn't where you'd imagine he'd like it to be.