The NBA Draft Lottery has now come and gone, setting the Lakers’ draft position in stone at number seven overall. Despite dropping one spot as a result of the lottery, Los Angeles is still in a prime position to add a young and exceptionally talented player to the roster on June 26.
Now that the draft order is set, mock drafts have come out in full swing, speculating as to what teams will do on draft day. Some prospects that are projected to being taken by the Lakers are Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon and Noah Vonleh. Laker fans are hoping that Dante Exum will somehow force his way to Los Angeles, but all indications are that the Orlando Magic will select the Australian point guard with the fourth pick.
Instead, the Lakers should turn their attention to another point guard who will potentially be available when they are on the clock — Marcus Smart.
Smart declared for the NBA Draft after his sophomore season at Oklahoma State, where an incident with a fan overshadowed his performance on the court. Late in a close game against Texas Tech on February 8, Smart stumbled into the crowd along the baseline after attempting to block a shot. As he was getting back up, Smart suddenly turned and confronted a fan, then shoved him. As punishment, the NCAA suspended Marcus Smart for the team’s next three games. Oklahoma State lost all three games during his absence.
The episode with the Texas Tech fan should not be a cause for concern, as Smart has had no other prior history of character issues.
Even more important to his draft stock than the controversy was the way Marcus Smart responded after his punishment. Once he returned from the suspension, the Oklahoma State point guard was fantastic, averaging 19.2 points, 6.1 assists, 6.6 rebounds and 4.5 steals in the team’s final 8 games. OSU was eliminated in their first NCAA tournament matchup against Gonzaga. Smart wasn’t to blame for that loss though, as he tallied an incredible stat line of 23 points, 7 assists, 13 rebounds and 6 steals — becoming the first player in NCAA Tournament history to record 20 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals in a game.
Now coming out of college, the most popular comparison drawn to Marcus Smart is Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade. While I believe the comparisons to Wade are accurate, Smart reminds me of Russell Westbrook as well. The 20-year-old has great size, strength and athleticism for a point guard but he is also a tenacious competitor, much like the Thunder guard. Westbrook’s ability to put pressure on opposing defenses by virtually being a blur in transition is a trait that Marcus Smart also possesses, just not quite to the same extent.
Unfortunately, they also share an inconsistent jump shot. Smart shot a meager 29.9 percent from the three point line last season, but has the capability of getting hot in a hurry due to an extreme amount of confidence in his game at all times. Another thing that Smart could be more consistent in is his decision making, but learning under Steve Nash for a season could improve that quality immensely.
The traits that Laker fans would love the most about Marcus Smart are his competitiveness, toughness, leadership and defensive ability. He has tremendous defensive instincts, which led him to an average of three steals per game in his career at Oklahoma State. He can lock down his man while creating havoc in the passing lanes, triggering fast breaks for his team. As for his competitiveness, Smart has demonstrated his desire and ability to win at the high school and college levels so far in his career. In high school, he accomplished a record of 115-6 on his way to two state championships. With him in the lineup last season, Oklahoma State was 21-10 despite playing in the Big 12, which was the toughest conference in the country.
While defense is his trademark, Smart was a nightmare on offense as well last season with OSU. He averaged 18 points per game while dishing out 4.8 assists and grabbing 5.9 rebounds.
His stock was already high, but a strong showing at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago earlier this month may have propelled it to another level. Smart measured at 6’3″ with a 6’9” wingspan. Along with posting a 33-inch standing vertical, he displayed his strength by bench pressing 185 pounds 19 times, which was third-best overall at the combine. In addition, Smart posted a lane agility time that was superior to past performances of some point guards who are notorious for their speed and quickness:
Marcus Smart's lane agility time of 10.82 is faster than John Wall (10.84), Russell Westbrook (10.98) and Chris Paul (11.09)
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 16, 2014
Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid and Dante Exum (not particularly in that order) will likely be the first four picks in the draft. After that, no pick seems to be a foregone conclusion. The Utah Jazz drafted Trey Burke last season, so unless they draft Smart and plan to play him at shooting guard, it seems unlikely that they would select him with the fifth pick. The Boston Celtics could take him sixth overall, considering Rajon Rondo is entering the final year of his contract, making Smart his replacement. However, playing behind Rondo and Avery Bradley would limit the minutes available to Smart in his rookie year, thus hindering his immediate growth.
If neither team drafts the OSU point guard, he will be there for the taking for the Los Angeles Lakers. Before he decided to return to school last year, Smart was virtually a lock to be a top-2 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, since the Orlando Magic reportedly had its heart set on drafting him with the second pick. Now, the Lakers could potentially get an absolute steal by taking him this year at number seven.
If Mitch Kupchak, Jim Buss and Laker management pass on Marcus Smart, it could be a decision that haunts them, as Smart will be dynamic building block to his rightful team’s future.
MyNBADraft.com – Julius Randle