The Smart Choice

The opening rounds of the NCAA tournament have not gone as planned for some of the draft’s top prospects. First it was Jabari Parker turning in a bracket-busting dud in Duke’s first round matchup against the mighty Mercer Bears. Then it was Andrew Wiggins performing one final disappearing act vs. Stanford while his running mate Joel Embiid was forced to watch from the sidelines due to a disconcerting back issue. All of this has only served to affirm my belief that Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart is the “sure thing” of the 2014 draft.

Smart’s Cowboys also made an early exit from the Dance, but unlike Parker and Wiggins, Marcus was his usual dominant self, finishing with 23 points, 13 rebounds (6 offensive), 7 assists, and 6 steals vs. Gonzaga. As Wise LeBron once put it, “now them numbers.” Smart shocked when he returned to Oklahoma State for his sophomore year despite being a top five lock in the thin 2013 draft class. Aside from a mid-season slump and a highly publicized incident with a Texas Tech “super fan”, Smart had a great sophomore year. He improved upon every facet of his game except for the one most needing improvement, his outside shot. Marcus may never be a good jump shooter, but he uses his size and strength advantages to get to the rim and the free throw line (9.9 FTA/40) and score at a high rate.

Marcus Smart (Soph.) .514 .299 7.2 5.8 3.5 0.7 3.2 22.0
Marcus Smart (Fresh.)* .465 .290 6.9 5.0 3.6 0.8 4.0 18.3
John Wall (Fresh.) .509 .325 4.9 7.5 2.0 0.6 4.6 19.1
Tyreke Evans (Fresh.) .514 .274 7.4 5.3 2.9 1.0 5.0 23.6
Jrue Holiday (Fresh.) .485 .307 5.5 5.4 2.4 0.8 3.0 12.4
Lance Stephenson (Fresh.) .495 .219 7.6 3.5 1.3 0.3 3.4 17.5
Chauncey Billups (Soph.) .425 .401 6.0 5.9 2.6 0.2 3.5 23.4

*I included Marcus’s freshman year stats since most of his comparisons were “one-and-done”.

Now that we’ve gotten to see Lance Stephenson in a quasi-point guard role in Indiana, he may work as the best pro comparison for Smart. However, Marcus outclasses Stephenson (and everyone in the 2014 draft) defensively. In addition to having excellent physical tools, Smart is a committed and menacing defender with quick hands and a nose for the basketball.

While you never know how a prospect’s offense will translate from college to the pros, Smart’s uncanny defensive instincts aren’t going anywhere. If all else fails, he will be a high-energy role player and a defensive specialist at the next level, giving him the highest floor of any draft prospect. It should also be noted that all of Smart’s comparables went on to have good to great NBA careers. Big, strong, athletic point guards who can play both ends of the floor tend to make good professional basketball players. Who knew?

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