Drafted by: Philadelphia 76ers, No. 47 overall
Traded to: New Orleans Pelicans for Pierre Jackson
Height/Weight: 6'1", 160 lbs
Age: 23 years old
Projected NBA Position: Point Guard
Pro Comparison: Patrick Beverley
Twitter Handle: @Russdiculous_2
As an NCAA champion and a turbocharged bundle of energy, Louisville's Russ Smith became a beloved player at the college level.
Now, he's looking to latch on and carve out a career in the NBA. It's not going to be easy, because he's an undersized point guard with an unconventional quarterbacking style.
Smith's success is based on his speed, and his ability to attack with the ball and fly around on the defensive end is what drives his pro value.
Can he translate his collegiate playmaking into a substantial career in the Association?
|Statistics at Louisville|
Smith isn't quite six feet tall (5'11.5") without shoes, and he barely clears the mark (6'0.75") with shoes on, per DraftExpress.com, so he's shorter than the vast majority of NBA guards. In addition, he has a short 6'3.5" wingspan and weighs a feathery 160 pounds.
Size won't be on his side in the NBA, but he'll earn his paycheck via quickness and athleticism.
Smith didn't post great agility numbers at the NBA Draft Combine, but he showcased what he can really do at a recent Los Angeles Clippers workout. He bounced 37 inches and displayed the kind of horizontal burst he'll need to survive in the NBA.
If you watched him at all at Louisville, you know that he uses his speed brilliantly, as he plucks steals and engineers fast breaks and high-flying finishes.
Attacking Off the Dribble
Smith isn't a pure point guard, but he can wreak havoc as a playmaker off the dribble.
His score-first aggressiveness fuels him to drive past opponents and attack the rim as if he were a small forward. Smith is a shifty ball-handler, and he can rise up to draw fouls or score near the bucket. He thrives off screens and in transition, often slicing through multiple defenders on his way to the cup.
According to Hoop-Math.com, Smith generated 75 percent of his own field goals near the rim, and he made 63 percent of those at-rim attempts.
It's going to be tougher for him to blow by stronger, longer opponents at the next level, but his speed will allow him to at least get into the paint and have options. That's where his improved passing and shooting skills will come into play.
Smith not only can handle the rock and attack the rim, but he proved during his senior year that he can command his shooting and passing.
As a freshman, Smith shot 41 percent from distance, but he only attempted 17 triples. When his role increased as a sophomore and junior, he shot 31 and 33 percent, respectively.
In 2013-14, he finished out his college career with more three-point attempts per game than he ever had, and he managed to bump his percentage up to 39 percent. In addition, his overall field-goal percentage was a robust 47 percent, far better than the previous three years.
He's gotten smoother and more accurate on both catch-and-shoot attempts and pull-up tosses. And more importantly, his shot selection has improved.
To top it off, he created far more scoring chances for teammates in 2013-14. He went from 3.8 assists per 40 minutes as a junior to 6.3 as a senior.
Smith's foot speed, aggressive playing style and quick hands make him a compelling defensive option.
In fact, his defense is the reason why his NBA comparison is Patrick Beverley, who's established himself as one of the best perimeter pests in the league.
Smith may not contest taller shooters effectively, nor will he stop the best slashers from making plays. But he will prevent many a point guard from even getting the offense started.
That's what he specializes in: getting into the grill of opposing quarterbacks and throwing off the rhythm of the whole unit. He'll deny the dribbler the easy play, hamper entry passes and force turnovers.
Does he really have the skills to run an offense as a point guard? Smith's aggressive playing style tends to result in a steady diet of turnovers, as his decision-making and vision as a passer aren't the best.
In addition, his size will make it tough for him to pass over and around opponents, much less dissect the defense efficiently. And when he drives into the lane, his 160-pound body will have a tough time navigating the physicality of the NBA.
In short, can he consistently create and take care of the ball? Would that compromise his main assets of speed and aggressiveness? It's going to be a struggle for him, especially early in his career.
Smith's coaching staff probably won't trust him to be in charge of the offense for substantial periods of time, so his main contribution will be energy.
He must play smart with the ball in his hands, and on the other end, he must exhibit a high-octane defense that frustrates opponents. Even if he accomplishes these tasks, he's looking at a peripheral role on the back end of the rotation.
Since he's already 23 years old, he's probably not going to evolve too much during his first few years in the league. The player you see now will be quite similar to Russ Smith in his prime.
But if he can sharpen his outside shooting a little more and clean up his passing attack, there's reason to believe he can hold a larger role in the rotation. We mentioned the Patrick Beverley comparison during the defense breakdown, and it's reasonable to believe Smith can operate as a poor man's version of the Houston Rockets point guard.
There are no guarantees, however, and efficiency is the name of the game if Smith wants to stick in the NBA for a long time.