After two fruitful seasons at Oklahoma State, star guard Marcus Smart has officially announced that he will make his long-awaited entry into the 2014 NBA draft. The star confirmed the news in an interview with John Helsley of The Oklahoman on Monday:
I’ve told my teammates and my coaching staff, this year was my last year here and I am declaring for the NBA Draft. I have picked an agent, with the Wasserman Group, a great group of guys.
Ready to rock and roll. I’m getting ready for the NBA Draft and I’m ready to start training.
Although entering the draft seems like an obvious move on the surface, it was far from a lock that Smart would decide to do so. Most figured that Smart was going to enter the fray after the 2012-13 season, but he made the decision to stay in school.
It is possible that Smart passed up an opportunity to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft last season. While many were flabbergasted by that choice, Smart had no reservations about returning to the Cowboys prior to the 2013-14 campaign, according to Sean Highkin of USA Today:
There's a lot of speculation going. I've been bashed and criticized that I probably made a mistake of coming back here, the NBA will be there, I should have took it, and this year's draft class is much weaker than next year's.
But I think I made the right decision. All that was telling me, from those people that said that, is they don't have confidence in my ability and my game to compete with those players next year. You guys have given me that confidence to do that, so I chose to stay here. I'm aware of how much money I am giving up.
Following his sophomore campaign, Smart spoke about the season and the decision to leave after, via Helsley:
I had a great season here at Oklahoma State. 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.
I believe I made the right decision. I get to do what I love to do.
While Smart may not get No. 1 overall money, there is little doubt that he'll be a lottery pick, and he seemingly stands a good chance of being selected somewhere around the top five. Perhaps his wallet will take a slight hit in comparison to what he could have made last year, but he's likely more prepared for the NBA this year.
Smart was universally questioned and criticized for making a noble decision last year. As unfathomable as it may have seemed to outsiders at the time, it may have actually improved his stock in the eyes of NBA teams.
According to Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders, an anonymous NBA scout believes that Smart returning to school last year cemented his status as a high-character guy and good teammate:
His decision to go back to school this year says a lot about who he is. The biggest fear for an NBA team is that we're going to draft a kid and then he'll lose his hunger right when he gets a paycheck. I'm not worried about that with Smart. He had a chance to get a payday last year and turned it down because he wanted to stick with his team and keep improving at the collegiate level. That says a lot about him.
With that said, Smart has some damage control to do prior to the draft. He was suspended for three games this past season after shoving a Texas Tech fan. The exact circumstances surrounding the situation were never fully explained, but it was clearly a negative mark on his Oklahoma State career.
Smart bounced back upon his return from suspension and showed great leadership ability in the process, but an anonymous NBA general manager said in February that the altercation will adversely affect Smart's draft status, per Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports:
His stock is going to take a hit. He has shown in the past few months that he is prone to outbursts. He kicked a chair (against West Virginia). He's under a lot of pressure. The team is not doing well, struggling ... Fans say things in the NBA every day. He has a history of letting people get under his skin. The NBA fans will test him.
Smart was clearly a different player after the suspension, and it's entirely possible that he learned from the situation and ultimately matured as well. Perhaps even more important than that is the fact that Smart improved from a production standpoint on the court during his sophomore season.
For all the controversy that he was involved with, Smart became a better and more proficient scorer, and he improved as a distributor as well.
Smart looks to be one of the most versatile players in the draft as he has the ability to play both guard positions, and he has great size at 6'4" and 220 pounds. Smart is clearly the total package, and ESPN's Fran Fraschilla believes it would be a big mistake for teams to pass on him early in the draft:
There are some obvious concerns that come along with Smart, but there is no denying his skill set. That alone should be enough to make him a top-five selection, and if he isn't, then some team will nab one of the biggest steals in recent memory.
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