Leading up to the NBA Draft on June 26, we’ll take a look at some of the prospects the Celtics are believed to be targeting with picks No. 6 and 17.
Today, we’ll continue our Celtics Prospect Report series with Oklahoma State star and consensus Top-10 selection Marcus Smart.
Meet Marcus Smart, the ultimate “intangibles” guy.
The Oklahoma State point guard enjoyed a good two-year career in Stillwater, but before anyone mentions his size, NBA-ready body, defensive prowess, quick hands, or aggressiveness on the glass, you’ll undoubtedly hear all about his winning mentality, competitiveness, toughness, and leadership traits. Any team that elects to draft Smart on Thursday night – be it the Celtics or one of the other squads slated to pick in the Top 10 – will be acquiring a kid hell-bent on being the absolute best he can be. No questions or concerns over work-ethic, heart, shape, or confidence here.
But, is Smart right for the Celtics?
Today, no. A few months from now and beyond, maybe.
At 6-foot-3 and 227 pounds, Smart is physically ready to play the point at the next level, and he’s certainly good enough to start for a rebuilding franchise. As long as Rajon Rondo is part of Boston’s long-term plans, however, he’s not as good an option at No. 6 as the slew of power forwards who may be available – Indiana's Noah Vonleh (profiled here), Arizona's Aaron Gordon (profiled here), and Kentucky's Julius Randle (profiled here) – or even banged up Kansas center Joel Embiid.
Smart isn’t a natural point – he’s only played the position for the last two seasons in college – so it’s understandable why some are quick to suggest he shift to the two-guard, but he’s undersized for that position and he isn’t a very good shooter. The 20-year-old shot just 42.2 percent from the field and 29.9 percent from long-distance last year. To his credit, though, both totals were marginally better than his success as a freshman (40.4 percent and 29.0 percent, respectively).
“I think he needs to be a point,” said John Helsley, who covers the Cowboys for The Oklahoma. He joined me recently to discuss Smart’s game and future on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Celtics at 7” program.
“He’s just not a great shooter and doesn’t have great form as a shooter. I’m sure he can work on that and at some point he may become better at that, but I don’t think that’s ever going to be his calling card,” Helsley continued, also referencing Smart’s difficulty in extending over bigger players to get his shot off. “He is a good distributor, he’s a great passer, and he’s a big-bodied point guard who it’s hard to take the ball from him. I think he’ll be better there. When his mindset is, ‘I’m going to make everyone around me better’, he’s very good at that. He’s going to settle in at the point and be able to be that guy and I think that’s his future in the NBA.”
Smart averaged 18 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and a whopping 2.9 steals (ranking third in the nation) per game as a sophomore last season. He would likely have been drafted within the first five picks in the 2013 NBA Draft, but he elected to return to school to chase a championship. Oklahoma State got off to a 15-2 start, but finished 21-13 after suffering through a mid-season seven-game skid and a Round of 64 loss to Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament.
In the midst of that painful streak in February, Smart found himself in the news for the wrong reasons after shoving a fan at Texas Tech following a verbal altercation. The leader was suspended three games and, for a brief time, had his character called into question.
At this point, it does not appear the incident will affect his draft stock. Most, including Helsley, just attributed the event to heat-of-the-moment frustration during a frustrating, underachieving season. Having grown up in a tough part of Dallas, TX, losing one brother to cancer and another to prison on drug-related charges, he’s hardly someone who buckles in the face of adversity.
“Maturity wise, he’s ready,” said Helsley. “Mentally, he’s the kind of guy who’s a great competitor and knows what has to be done on the floor.
“If there’s one question about Marcus, it’s where’s his head as far as being a scorer,” he questioned. “That’s something we saw this past season, his sophomore year. As a freshman, he was more than happy to be the facilitator at the point. He wanted to make everyone around him better and he did. Then as he decided not to go in the draft after his freshman season, he started hearing people talk about how he needed to be a better shooter. In the offseason, he worked hard on his shot. Last year, I think he tried to prove a little bit too much that he could shoot it from ‘3’ and he was hot and cold from out there. I think when he gets to the next level, just knowing him a little bit, he’ll get settled back in to being a facilitator and maybe not shoot the ball so much.”
Not a quality C’s president of basketball operations Danny Ainge necessarily needs at this moment unless he’s planning for life after Rondo, which he very well may be with the Celtics captain a year away from free agency and likely not enamored with the idea of going through a lengthy rebuild.
Smart is obviously not a perfect player and he certainly won’t be the best athlete on the board at No. 6 on Draft Night. But, for all of the concerns over his shot selection, perimeter shooting, and quick first step, the guard is a workhorse.
“A lot of the things I’ve heard from [Oklahoma State] coaches around the program who have talked to [NBA] GM’s – they believe he’s going to be a 10-to-12 year guy in the NBA,” said Helsley, who likened Smart’s skill-set to 15-year pro Andre Miller. “[Smart]’s never going to be a guy who gets his paycheck and becomes satisfied. He works on his game like crazy, so maybe his shot will get better, but his whole game will get better, too, because of the way he works. Number one, he wants to win and that will always be, I think, at the top of the list for him.”
Where he sits on the Celtics’ wish list remains to be seen. Smart isn’t the ideal fit for Boston, but Ainge could certainly do worse if more promising options are off the board.
Below, check out a video scouting breakdown of Smart’s game from DraftExpress.
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