NBA Draft Expert's Notebook: Has Marcus Smart Gotten Free Pass into Draft Elite?

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterFebruary 6, 2014

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Following a standout freshman year at Oklahoma State, Marcus Smart entered the 2013-14 college season with a pass straight to first class. 

You'd be hard-pressed to find a draft board or scout who doesn't rank Smart near the top. 

His stock appears bulletproof. As a freshman, nobody seemed to be bothered by his 40.4 percent shooting clip or his 29 percent stroke from downtown. It didn't seem to matter he averaged 3.4 turnovers and just 4.2 assists running the point for most of the time.

That's because he has been regarded as a "stats don't matter" type of player. His intangibles drive his appeal as a prospect. 

Who cares about the numbers when you have a winner, leader and floor general?

But what happens when Smart isn't winning, leading or efficiently commanding the offense? Last I checked, Oklahoma State is 4-5 in conference play despite overflowing with talent and experience. And given his recent temper tantrum (he stormed off the court mid-game against West Virginia) and chair-kicking antics, his in-game leadership has been questionable.

A floor general? Sure. But that 1.68 assist-to-turnover ratio doesn't look too hot.

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It's almost as if we've been led to believe his intangibles are powerful enough to supersede his weaknesses as a player. And I'm just not sure how powerful those intangibles will be without a consistent jumper, improved handle and better decision-making.

Intangibles aside, how good is Smart from a skill-set perspective? Obviously, he can ball, but I'm talking about how his strengths and weaknesses as a guard will translate from one level to the next.

He's played poorly as of late, and quite frankly, there are questions regarding his game that still need answers.

Smart runs Oklahoma State's offense, so naturally, we call him a point guard. Only as a point guard, he sported a negative-1.74 pure point rating (measured assists to turnovers relative to each other) last year, and he currently owns a 0.95 PPR this season (4.4 assists to 2.6 turnovers a game), via DraftExpress.

In comparison, Syracuse's Tyler Ennis, who's also a point guard and lottery candidate, is No. 6 in the country with a 6.54 PPR among players who have played at least 20 minutes. Smart's 0.95 PPR ranks outside the top 150.

He's an excellent passer within the flow of an offense, but creating for teammates off the dribble isn't his playmaking specialty. 

Smart still has problems when handling the ball in traffic:

Credit: ESPN

Credit: ESPN

He doesn't have that natural change-of-direction elusiveness off the bounce that is shared by many of the NBA's top point guards. He's more like a power back in football—Smart plays a line-drive attack game, using his strength as opposed to shiftiness. 

I don't want to compare him to Lance Stephenson, but that same physical approach as a bully is more of Smart's style of play. And you just don't typically see point guards operate that way.

He's also been erratic as a decision-maker—which is ironic, considering the praise he's received as a floor general. 

Smart has actually cut down on his turnovers this year, though decision-making isn't just about sloppy passing or overdribbling. It's his shot selection that could really use some serious fine-tuning. 

He takes a number of low-percentage jumpers every game. According to Hoop-Math, just 37.4 percent of his shots come at the rim, while 43.3 percent come from behind the arc. Only Smart doesn't shoot the ball very well from that deep.

After shooting below 30 percent from downtown as a freshman, he has only hit 28.2 percent of his threes as a sophomore. College Basketball Talk's Rob Dauster recently made the point to tie Smart's questionable decision-making as a shooter to his inconsistent outside stroke. 

What about Smart as a scorer or 2-guard? Sure, he's putting up more than 17 points a game, but he's not very efficient. 

Coming off a high screen or when a gap is open to hit, he can viciously attack the basket, finish after contact and draw fouls on the way. But as a one-on-one threat, he needs significant work.

He's just not adept at creating high-percentage shots for himself away from the basket. He is only hitting 28.8 percent of his two-point jumpers, per Hoop-Math.

With the game on the line and his team down one in the closing seconds against Iowa State, take a look at the weak attempt that Smart got off while working in isolation:

The fact is that his game has holes that shouldn't be ignored because of the perceived intangibles he brings to the table. Ball-handling, decision-making, shooting—these areas still require major maintenance. 

Chances are he won't slip too far in the draft, but I'm not sure we should just award him top-guard-prospect-in-America honors by default—especially with Syracuse's Ennis on the rise.

"I think many still have him [Smart] locked into that top six, though he could start to slide," one scout told me. "His behavior of late has been discouraging and he hasn't progressed like many had hoped he would."

Smart is going to be a nice addition to an NBA team one day. He's tough as nails, goes hard and plays for the sake of the team. But with guys like Australia's Dante Exum, Kentucky's Julius Randle, Indiana's Noah Vonleh and even Ennis, there isn't much margin for error for Smart on the 2014 NBA draft front. 

2014 NBA Draft Big Board
1Joel EmbiidKansasCFreshman
2Jabari ParkerDukeSF/PFFreshman
3Andrew WigginsKansasSFFreshman
4Dante ExumAustraliaPG/SG1995
5Noah VonlehIndianaPF/CFreshman
6Julius RandleKentuckyPFFreshman
7Marcus SmartOklahoma StatePG/SGSophomore
8Gary HarrisMichigan StateSGSophomore
9James YoungKentuckySFFreshman
10Rodney HoodDukeSFSophomore
11Zach LaVineUCLAPG/SGFreshman
12Tyler EnnisSyracusePGFreshman
13Willie Cauley-SteinKentuckyCSophomore
14Doug McDermottCreightonSFSenior
15Dario SaricCroatiaSF/PF1994
16Jerami GrantSyracuseSF/PFSophomore
17Nik StauskasMichiganSG/SFSophomore
18P.J. HairstonTexas LegendsSGJunior
19Aaron GordonArizonaSF/PFFreshman
20Adreian PayneMichigan StatePFSenior
21Glenn Robinson IIIMichiganSFSophomore
22Vasilije MicicSerbiaPG1994
23Nick JohnsonArizonaPG/SGJunior
24Montrezl HarrellLouisvillePFSophomore
25Wayne SeldenKansasSGFreshman
26T.J. WarrenNorth Carolina StateSFSophomore
27Sam DekkerWisconsinSFSophomore
28C.J. WilcoxWashingtonSGSenior
29Clint CapelaSwitzerlandPF/C1994
30James Michael McAdooNorth CarolinaPFJunior
Bleacher Report

Heatin' Up

Shabazz Napier, Connecticut, 6'1", PG, Senior

Napier has officially entered flamethrower mode, averaging 25.5 points on 50 percent shooting over his past four games. He has made 13-of-29 three-pointers and 29-of-32 free throws during the stretch. His shooting touch has gotten better with each year at Connecticut, and if he does eventually crack the first round, that stroke will likely have something to do with it. 

HARTFORD, CT - DECEMBER 18: Shabazz Napier #13 of the Connecticut Huskies reacts following a non-call in the second half against the Stanford Cardinal during the game at XL Center on December 18, 2013 in Hartford, Connecticut.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/G
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Le'Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State, 6'7'', SF, Junior

Nash is quietly having his most productive and efficient season as a Cowboy. He recently went off for 26 points, 10 boards and five assists in that wild overtime thriller against Iowa State, and he's averaging 20.5 points and seven boards on 60.4 percent shooting over his past four games.

For the year, he is shooting an impressive 53.7 percent from the floor, taking shots in his wheelhouse instead of ones he can't hit with consistency. However, as an NBA wing, he has to extend that shooting range eventually. He has only taken five three-pointers all season, and he hasn't hit one of them.

Coolin' Off

Isaiah Austin, Baylor, 7'1'', PF/C, Sophomore 

You root for the kid, but Austin just can't seem to find his sweet spots in Baylor's offense. He's just 7-of-27 over his last four games, and he didn't crack double digits in scoring in any of them. Although he is blocking more shots this year, his rebounding numbers are way down, as he's pulling in just 5.5 a game despite his 7'1'' size and advantageous length. 

As a finesse player, Austin doesn't seem to have the strength or power game to make a living inside. He might want to think about spending another year at Baylor to establish an identity for himself before entering the NBA draft.

January 29, 2014; Stanford, CA, USA; Arizona Wildcats forward Aaron Gordon (11) high-fives teammates while being introduced before the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Maples Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Gordon, Arizona, 6'9'', SF/PF, Freshman

Gordon is stuck between positions at the moment, and it's limiting his scoring opportunities. The only good shots you really see him get off are dunks, alley-oops or other finishes around the rim. 

He's made just nine of his last 37 shots over his previous three games, and he hasn't hit a three-pointer since December 19. 

"But is he a 3 (small forward) or a 4 (power forward)," one scout asked when discussing prospects with Bleacher Report's Jason King. "Does he shoot it really great? Not really. I don’t think he’s a top-10 pick. He may go in the Top 10, but that’d just be a case of someone betting on upside."

Starting Wildcats power forward Brandon Ashley was recently lost for the season with a foot injury, which means Gordon's usage rate should increase. Let's see what he does with it. 

Update Abroad

Clint Capela, Chalon, 6'10'', PF/C

Swiss big man Clint Capela has made major waves this year over in France—he recently erupted for 21 points, nine boards and seven assists in a win over Roanne, just two weeks after recording a season-high 18 points on 7-of-7 shooting. 

Strong, long (over a 7'3" wingspan) and athletic, Capela does just about all of his work on the interior. He has shot roughly 65 percent from the floor in 16 games in France and nearly 72 percent in 10 Eurocup games. 

He's still raw and most likely a long-term project, but he has emerged as one of the more draft-worthy international prospects based on his finishing ability and defensive potential. 

Jusuf Nurkic, Cedevita, 6'11", C

He's fresh off a 14-point, seven-rebound effort in 17 minutes of action. Jusuf Nurkic seems to make things happen whenever he's on the floor thanks to his ridiculous size and terrific instincts around the basket. 

At 6'11", 280 pounds with a 7'2'' wingspan, he's immovable inside, where he takes up a boatload of space on the glass and defensive end. Despite his massive body, he actually seems to move fairly effortlessly out there, where he's a factor in the pick-and-roll game and working one-on-one in the post. 

We'll know more about him in the months leading up to the draft, but he's a name to keep an eye on regardless of where you're sitting. 

Fourth-Quarter Thoughts

  • Michigan's Nik Stauskas is having a monster breakout year, averaging 17.3 points a game. But it's not his scoring ability alone that's helped him transform into a legitimate first-round prospect. He is a terrific passer and a high-IQ presence. He dropped eight assists on Nebraska on Wednesday, creating for teammates and moving the ball around the offense. Stauskas is one of this year's biggest risers following a summer that saw him add strength, firepower and offensive versatility. 
  • After a quiet month of January, Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein got loud against Ole Miss, when he finished with 18 points, 11 boards and six blocks. He even converted a pretty lefty hook in the lane. He can be frustrating at times, but if an NBA team can keep it simple for him, his 7'0'' size and destructive athleticism should be worth a top-14 pick.
  • Despite flashing some wild upside at UCLA, combo guard Zach LaVine has hit the wall, having made just three field goals over his last three games. It's not that he's playing terribly—his role off the bench limits his scoring chances in the offense. I still like him as a lottery talent, but it might be smarter for him to test his draft luck in 2015.