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Monday, April 15, 2013

Scouting Report: Marcus Smart

Coming out of high school, Marcus Smart was considered among the top players in his class (#10 on both ESPN and Rivals, #13 on Rivals) and lead his team to a 115-6 record in 3 years of varsity ball, including 2 state championship titles in which he stepped up big when it counted the most. He did this with Oklahoma State teammate and best friend Phil Forte by his side for every game.

On the AAU side of things, Smart proved to be a winner as well and carried his AAU team to the Adidas Super 64 (the premier event on the Adidas summer circuit) title where he defeated Shabazz Muhammad behind a 29 point, 18 rebound performance.

For most of the time, Smart was the primary ball handler on his teams but was still considered as a shooting guard prospect by most recruiting analysts when he signed at OSU. This summer however, Smart started all 5 games alongside future UNC PG Nate Britt at the U18 FIBA Americas and ended up leading the team in assists. It was during this time that his coach during the tournament, Billy Donavan RAVED about his leadership ability and toughness.

Heading to Oklahoma State, Marcus Smart stepped in at point guard immediately. He didn't just find himself there by default - he became the leader of the team from day one and completely changed the culture of the team. This coming from a freshman - and a very young freshman at that - one that was only 18 until this March.

Oklahoma State went from a 15-18 team in 2011-12 to the second best team in the Big 12 with Smart, earning them a 5th seed in a NCAA Tournament. In the tournament, Smart and the Cowboys were ousted in the first round by Oregon and that is the final memory in Smart's college career.

Against Oregon, Smart was unable to handle defensive pressure very well. He committed quite a few turnovers, but more importantly, he was forced to work off the basketball more. Smart couldn't handle the pressure and control the tempo of the game, but still padded the statsheet by helping out in other areas.

While Smart has all the intangibles to be a point guard, there are some concerns that need to be addressed with ball handling and quickness off the dribble. Smart is only an average ball handler at point guard and it showed this year with quite a few turnovers. Smart gets by with his dribbling by using his size to shield the ball and create space, but that won't be as easy at the next level. His left hand needs work and he needs to tighten the dribble up a lot.

Smart isn't the type of point guard that can iso a fellow point guard and get all the way to the rim with a quick move. Instead, he uses a combination of power and a change of speeds - both which he knows how to use very well. But even with that, there are times where you can minimize Smart's effect at the top of they key with the ball in his hands.

We saw it this season at Oklahoma State. There were times, the Oregon game being one, where Smart had to give the ball up once he crossed halfcourt and then look to get the ball back coming around a down screen.

With Smart struggling to get to the rim at times, he has to settle for far too many off balanced jumpers - a shot that he hasn't been able to hit efficiently yet. He has a reputation as a bad shooter and that is fair given that he shot only 29% from 3 this season. However, his poor numbers also have a lot to do with bad shots and highly contested ones as well. He also took plenty of threes from well beyond the arc and was able to connect at a decent rate. Some of these were by necessity, others were because he was in need of finding a way to generate offense.

Still, he shot 35% on 2-pt jumpers is OK and given the degree of difficulty of most of these shots, that number is even better than it looks. There are some tweeks Smart can do to improve his shot, but for the most part, Smart's shot is fine. His mechanics are broke and he doesn't have poor touch which seems to be his reputation. Also, Smart shot 78% at the foul line on 6.5 attempts per game. So his shooting shouldn't be the biggest concern.

Once again, the biggest concern will be his ability to get to the lane and create. If he can't do that, then yes, shooting will become heavily relied upon to the point where he has to be able to knock down 3-pters at a good clip.

As a creator, Smart is able to see the entire court and does a good job finding open teammates. He does a good job when he gets in the lane to not just look for kickouts, but also to find teammates underneath the basket for easy shots. He is able to get into the lane, stop around the foul line and have the threat of both a pullup jumper or a pass over big men. He attacks the pick and roll aggressively by splitting the defenders, although with handles it does result in the occasional turnover. In the lane, Smart is able to remain under control, using his body to create space and allow him time to move at his own pace. He has the ability to navigate through the paint with his dribble, using his size and hesitations to his advantage moreso than any advanced handling or speed advantages.

Smart is also a fantastic rebounder for a guard - or forward for that matter - and is able to start a lot of breaks that way. While he isn't fast in transition, Smart does a good job keeping his head up and finding teammates. He's aggressive pushing the ball and relies on his passing to do most of the work.

Smart also has shown signs of a post game and this could be a big development for him moving forward. Being able to take advantage of that strength in the post could give him a go-to move to make up for his lack of quickness. Smart is perfectly capable of developing a good turnaround jumper, and already has a natural fade and good elevation on his jumpshots. He already knows how to get low post position and was able to get easy layups from taking advantage of his size on multiple occasions this year.

Smart also isn't the most explosive guy at the rim and a lot of that has to do with the fact that he is primarily a two feet jumper. As a guy with a bigger body, he takes some time to gather himself before going up to the rim. Smart is able to finish through contact very well and certainly can throw down some powerful dunks. Smart has developed a nice jumpstop which is a useful tool for him as a less explosive guy. He would do himself an even better service to continue to work to develop a reliable floater off of one foot. Right now he has more of a fall away floater that takes him away from the basket and towards the baseline. Adding a better floater to his arsenal will allow him to score in the paint without getting all the way to the rim.

Overall with Smart, you have a guy with all the intangibles needed from a point guard and also a guy who is a very good passer. He has the size that can make him special at the position and is used to playing with the ball in his hands. He knows how to score the ball as well and has always been the main ball handler on the team. But there are also concerns with his quickness and ball handling that may make it best for him to play next to another ball handler to take pressure off of him, at least during his first couple of seasons in the NBA. Smart has shown this year that he can work off the ball just as well by coming off screens, posting up, hitting the offensive glass, going backdoor, and even setting screens for others. Smart keeps his head thinking of how to make an impact at all times. While you'd much rather be able to play him at point guard, if he has to play some shooting guard at the next level, he can be successful there as well.

Once you get into the defensive size of things, there is plenty of more stuff to like about Smart. Smart was one of the best defenders in college basketball, making a huge impact as a defender from the point guard spot. He racked up plenty of steals, but his forte at point guard wasn't just at creating turnovers.

Smart managed to get involved on every play on the defensive end, something that you may see from a great defensive center, but not a point guard. With his tremendous instincts, size, strength, and BBIQ he was able to play plenty of helpside defense while still keeping his man in check. He was active and attentive at all times on defense, keeping constant tabs on both the ball and his man.

Smart was also an extremely versatile defender and was able to switch on basically all screens. Even when he was matched up against big men, Smart more than held his own in the strength department. Smart has some huge hands as well, and the force and easiness in which he swipes the ball from defenders hands is impressive. Its rare to see a guy be able to pluck point guards as cleanly and easily as he makes it look.

There is no questioning his team defense, as it is as good at it gets at the college level. Moving on, there will be questions about how well he can keep some of the quicker NBA point guards in front of him. But then again, there are few in the NBA who even have a chance of staying in front of the top tier guys. Also, his pick and roll defense may need some changes as he will have to fight through screens instead of switching all the time. Knowing Marcus Smart, this shouldn't be a problem at all. His pick and roll defense should actually be great given his versatility to switch at times and the strength he has to fight through screens.

As it stands now, Smart looks like a near lock for a top 5 pick barring any bad workouts. His agent will most likely play it safe and refuse any one on one workouts, which will eliminate the possibility of him struggling in that setting. Smart should thrive in the interviews and athletic testing/workouts and will only raise his stock that way. Smart could also earn some more believers with those infamous empty gym shooting sessions where he can show he can make shots when being guarded by a chair. An outside shot at #1 overall pick isn't out of the question at this point depending on who gets the top pick.

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