Last week Sam Vecenie of Fear the Sword, SB Nation's Cleveland Cavaliers blog), started up a new weekly e-mail chain where he and yours truly will talk NBA Draft prospects and other NBA Draft things. Our conversations will alternate each week between Orlando Pinstriped Post and FtS. We're very aware here that next year's crop of prospects is really special, so paying attention to them best suits the Orlando Magic and Cavaliers communities at large.
On Sunday Sam and I watched Marcus Smart play Memphis for the second time this season. In his first game against the Tigers, as you may remember, Smart scored 39 points, hitting five three-pointers and recording five steals.
His second performance was much sloppier--the worst game of his sophomore season. Memphis came in with the game plan to stop the combo guard and it did just that. Smart finished with 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting. He collected eight boards and dished four assists. He also committed five turnovers, including two in the final 30 seconds.
Below is a transcript of our e-mail conversation:
Tyler: Hey Sam, what's up?
Hope you had a wonderful Turkey Day, but it's time to talk some hoops.
Last week we touched on the Big 3--Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Julius Randle--but we didn't really get to talk about Marcus Smart. Smart's a big name around Orlando Pinstriped Post and the Magic community in general.
As probably you know there were reports that Orlando would've taken him no. 2 overall if he had chose to declare but he, obviously, decided to return to school. He's looked pretty awesome early this year so a lot of Magic fans are upset that the team may have missed out on him.
I'm set up, as you are, to watch him tonight against Memphis. What have you seen from him so far and what do you want to see tonight? Weren't not getting another 39-point performance, are we?
Sam: What's going on, Tyler?
Yeah, Smart has looked crazy good. Memphis' strength is on the perimeter, so I don't think we're going to get the 39 point game again, but I think he's obviously going to drop 20-plus. The question with him right now is whether or not the three-point threat can keep up. What do you think of that?
Tyler: Honestly, I don't really know. I mean, his shot doesn't look different: there's still a bit of a hitch and he jumps really far forward. It's not always consistent but, man, has it been dropping for him this year.
One thing about that jumper: I'm a little worried he's pressing a bit with it. I mean, he's shooting six three-pointers a game. I understand that he's wanting to prove himself as a shooter, because that's what scouts mostly critiqued, but still: his strength is getting to the cup. Why settle for long jumpers?
On the other hand, it's pretty freaking sweet to watch him drop bombs from the perimeter. It's kind of the, "Oh, I can't shoot? Watch me" mindset. And he's out there proving all of the critics wrong. I just don't want him settling because he's at his best on the attack. I'm over-thinking this, aren't I?
Sam: Totally agree with that. He's settling for the jumper too much early, but it's kind of working for the team. I like the idea of what you said at the end of that, with the "Oh you're going to go under my screen? Well I'll just drop this three in your face." He probably should be around that four threes-per-game mark. I still don't totally buy his jumper for the reasons that you said about the jumper in the last message, and for this reason.
He should be doing more of what he just did on that second possession for Oklahoma State, where he had a sweet drive and then dumped it off to a wide-open forward right at the hoop for an easy lay-up which, unfortunately, the forward missed. He's so athletic--especially on this level--that he should be blowing by people at will, and so far this season he's kind of forgotten to do that at times and gotten jumper-happy.
So here's my next question: say the jumper is real and he's a 39-percent three-point-shooter. Does that make Smart jump into a top four along with the big three freshmen?
Tyler: Let me preface this by saying that I have the top six of this Draft in three tiers. Tier One is Wiggins, Parker, Randle. There's no going wrong there and you have a franchise cornerstone with anyone in that group. Tier Two is Smart, by himself. He isn't far off from the first tier but I have to ask myself, "can Smart be the best player on a championship team?" I don't think so. Tier Three is Dante Exum and Aaron Gordon. They're both below Smart, mostly because I haven't watched Exum enough and Gordon has a lot of question marks for me right now.
Now, if a team chooses to draft based on need--something I'm not an advocate for--then, yeah, Smart can be in that first group because there are a number of teams that will draft high that don't have a franchise point guard. But if I'm on the clock, I'm taking Parker, Randle, and Wiggins before Smart.
If those three are off the board, I'm taking Smart in a heartbeat. If he maintains 38-39 percent from behind the arc, I'm even happier. But I can't throw him in that first tier yet.
Tyler: Uh, something just happened with Smart. Looks like he's sick or something. He's getting fluids in him right now. Come on.
Well, he's in now so hopefully he's OK.`
And yeah I'm totally agreed with you on the order, except I'd probably throw Randle into the second tier with Smart. Both supremely productive scorers, both with turnover issues, both insanely powerful athletes for their position. I actually think the two are very similar for their positions.
Smart has the drive-and-dish game cooking tonight. As I say that he pulls up for a somewhat contested corner three. I think that's his best skill as far as the NBA is concerned at this point. He's so good at using his quickness and strength to get to the hoop then either finish, draw a foul, or kick it to an open player.
Another thing we haven't talked about yet is the defense. He's an incredible ball-hawk on that end, and seems to have the drive to work harder than most star college players. For someone who didn't like Smart much coming into this season, I'm really just talking him up constantly here.
Tyler: THAT PASS RIGHT THERE TO MIKE COBBINS WAS ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS. That's EXACTLY what you just talked about. He pump-faked from the corner, spun through two guys, and then no-looked it to Cobbins. That was so dumb. That's toying with college players. They had no chance. They knew they were going to die there. Man...
Speaking of defense. Can you IMAGINE him next to Victor Oladipo? I would literally feel bad for opposing backcourts. Both guys are so pesky on the ball and ballhawk on the back end. And they're two of the best young guards at contesting shots at the rim. That perimeter defense would terrorize the league.
A Smart-Oladipo backcourt would have all of your character, all of your perimeter defense and all of your turnovers!
Sam: A backcourt with Smart and Oladipo would be pretty fun defensively, but would ultimately be super dependent on Oladipo becoming a completely reliable three-point threat. I have faith in that happening, but it would become a much bigger piece of the puzzle in that scenario. It potentially becomes the best young backcourt in the NBA though.
Just a quick update: Smart now has five points, four rebounds, and three assists at halftime. He's actually the sixth-leading scorer on his team right now. The guy I'm extremely impressed with early is Shaq Goodwin of Memphis. He's super active on both ends, really looks enjoyable to play with, and is actually playing the role he'd be playing in the NBA. He's probably a 6-foot-7 power forward, but I'm certainly going to watch more of him as this season progresses.
There are NBA athletes all over this floor, which makes what Smart did in the first game all the more impressive.
Tyler: Speaking of Goodwin, uh, Smart is guarding him. Marcus Smart, 6-foot-4 point guard, is guarding Shaq Goodwin, 6-foot-7 power forward, in the post. This is a thing that's happening. Smart is ambitious, but that's a matchup he's going to lose most of the time. Goodwin's either really on or looks like he's checked out. He's definitely on right now and it's been fun to watch.
Smart's been all over the place early in the second. Looks like he's just blindly hurling his body at the basket and it's really not working. He's probably pressing himself to get going offensively, but that's some of that out-of-control play that he was criticized for last year. I imagine he'll get under control as time goes on.
Sam: See, and there's actually an example of what I was talking about when I said that I didn't love Smart. He has a little bit of Dion Waiters in him where he'll just aimlessly and recklessly drive to the hoop and not really have a plan for what he's doing AND JESUS CHRIST PHIL FORTE JUST PULLED UP FROM 35 FEET.
Sorry I got distracted for a second.
When Smart is under control and knows what his plan is, there may not be a better collegiate player this season. However, whenever the defense starts to frustrate him (like on that transition play there), he starts to press, like you said. Joe Jackson and Michael Dixon are doing a really good job tonight of getting up in his grill and staying in front of him. Josh Pastner clearly set up his entire defensive philosophy tonight around stopping Smart, and it's working. But that's the great thing about Oklahoma State this season: Brown, Le`Bryan Nash, and Forte are real players who can do big-time things.
Tyler: There's just over 12 minutes left and Smart has four assists. With how Memphis is playing him, that number really could be seven or eight. If his teammates had hit a couple of jumpers it may have already been. Memphis is doubling down when he drives, attacking him on pick-and-rolls, and essentially accepting that it's going to take away Smart and force the other guys to beat it.
He's starting to slow down a bit now. It looks like we're going to get a really good finish here.
Sam: When he gets moving off of a screen it's almost impossible to stop him from getting to the hoop and either drawing a foul or scoring. We'll have to see what happens there.
What do you think of Le'Bryan Nash for Oklahoma State? HUGE recruit coming in, great size for a small forward, looks like he's finally playing within himself despite that technical foul. Could he end up being a first-rounder after all?
Tyler: I was so high on Nash out of high school. Stupid Me loves high school mixtapes. He's gotten way more productive as he's practically cut three pointers out of the game and that's really helped. He's playing down low, rebounding and throwing his body around like a mad man. Problem is, he's a little undersized, at 6-foot-7, if he doesn't have a semblance of a jumper.
Six minutes left. Crunch time. Memphis looks way better this time around.
Tyler: 29.1 seconds to go. Oklahoma State has the ball down one. Just called a timeout.Sam: HE LOST THE BALL! What a play by Geron Johnson there from Memphis. Austin Nichols did a pretty solid job staying in front of him there too.
Here comes the inevitable question: "Do you foul?"
Sam: SMART LOST IT AGAIN! Got stuck in a corner double-team and it got intercepted. Couldn't even get a shot off in the last two possessions. Memphis switched all screens and just played it well. Goodwin with another big play. Wow.
Tyler: Not even sure what to say. That was... sloppy. The first turnover came off the pick and roll and he dribbled himself into a hot zone, the corner, on the other. Really anti-climatic ending. Great defense from Memphis there, though.
So Smart ends the game with 12 points, eight rebounds and four assists on 4-of-13 shooting. Missed all five shots from behind the arc. Easily his worst game of the season. It's not easy playing a team twice: Memphis clearly came in with the conscious plan to stop Smart and they did just that. This was basically a blueprint for how to guard him.
That shooting we talked about earlier? If he can maintain it? If it was real? Well, tonight certainly didn't work in his favor. He was clearly bothered by the pressure from Johnson and Joe Jackson. You can't change get too high or too low on a prospect from one night so I'm not going to say anything too drastic here. I'm curious to hear your takeaway from this performance.
Sam: Yeah tonight was the quintessential "bad" performance from Smart, especially at the end. Five turnovers, most of which were somewhat avoidable if he wasn't out of control. Bad shooting from distance. But, hey, that's fine. Everyone has rough games, especially 19-year-olds. There's not a whole lot to take away from tonight's performance other than what the weaknesses of his game are. It's not anything worth moving him up or down a Draft board.
The game end was a massive cluster-****. I saw some people blaming Travis Ford there at the end of the game, but that--especially the second possession--mostly seemed like Smart just going into a corner. He tried to do a little too much there.
Memphis is pretty much the perfect team on the collegiate level to slow him down. They have three high intensity guards that they can throw at him in Johnson, Jackson, and Michael Dixon, plus some agile big guys to slow him down on pick-and-rolls. In the first game, he had the hot-shooting night in the first half when Memphis started going under screens.
The questions about Smart are very legitimate, as seen tonight. The turnovers are always concerning. He was an extremely inefficient guard last season scoring. But he just affects the game in so many ways, such as defensively and with the pressure he draws to himself, that it might not matter.
Tyler: Yup. He has his issues and they were exposed tonight. He also had his moments where he looked levels above anyone else on the court: the 360-degree assist and a couple of drives off the pick-and-roll come to mind.
Luckily for Smart, he's got plenty of other opportunities to shine on the national stage. On January 12th, Oklahoma State travels to Lawrence to take on the NBA stockpiled Kansas Jayhawks. I can barely hold my excitement.