Friends, it is time. With Our Beloved Puppies sitting twelve games under .500 and seven and a half games behind Houston for the West's final playoff spot, and the team's best player out for another month, it is time to turn our attention to the draft during those moments our returning unicorn is not actually on a basketball court in front of television cameras. To that end, I spent a few hours of my time this past Saturday watching and researching Marcus Smart, in between homemade bowls of gumbo, and here are my initial impressions.
Smart is a "do $*%!" kind of player. He'll sneak into the lane and bull an opposing forward out of the way for a putback a couple times a game, and is a tenacious defensive rebounder. On one possession late in the recent Oklahoma game, he found himself under the opposing basket and attacked the big man he needed to box out, enabling the Cowboys to gain a crucial possession. He has a fantastic motor, always active on defense, able to rack up gaudy defensive stats without gambling that much. He does get beat from time to time gambling, but competes on every play, and shows a willingness to fight through screens.
Smart is a fantastic athlete, but his greatest asset is his strength, not his speed. He uses his strength to great effect on defense, on the boards, and on drives. From what I saw, he has a mediocre first step, though he can certainly run the floor, and most of his success as a slasher and driver came from using his strength to push his man back into the lane instead of blowing by his defender. While that strategy is effective in the NCAA, I am not sure if he is big enough to be able to rely on his strength to create shot opportunities in the NBA. While big for a point guard, he is smaller than the star players who drive using their strength, like James Harden (who is also quicker than Smart).
As a result, the biggest weakness in Smart's game, as a NBA point guard, is his ability to run the pick and roll. All-Star point guards like Paul, Westbrook, Parker, Rose, Nash, Irving, Curry, etc are so deadly because they can get to the basket so easily off a pick, it forces the defense to contort to adjust to them. Smart doesn't have that quickness, so the defense can play him more honestly, taking away the easy pass to the roll man. As a result, several times, I saw the Cowboys attempt to run a high pick and roll, with only a contested jumper or pitch back to a three point shooter resulting. Smart also does not seem to have the court vision to thread the needle on interior pnr passes to make up for his lack of a quick first step.
I do like Smart a lot more off the ball than other point guards who have been forced off (Tyreke Evans comes to mind). He is big and aggressive enough to defend most NBA shooting guards imo, and he looked much more comfortable off the catch and shoot than shooting off the dribble. I don't know his percentages, but I would bet they are much better on spot up opportunities. While I didn't see him make any "next level" passes, he is a perfectly functional passer, reading the court to make good entry passes and swinging the ball to open shooters. As a point guard, his passing and drive and kick are "meh", as a shooting guard, they are real assets.
The last aspect of Smart's game that will prove to be vital to his success at the NBA is his ability to finish at the rim. From what I saw, he was stopped short of the basket by defenses that had time to react to his drives, but he was able to make a number of tough 5-8 foot runners and bank shots, some that looked positively Wade-ian. If he can continue to refine that part of his game, his footwork, especially in the low post, and become a better shooter, which he certainly has the work ethic to do, I think he could be a fringe All-Star shooting guard for years to come.