DISCLAIMER: The following post is NOT an outright endorsement of Marcus Smart as the 76ers 2014 NBA Draft Lottery selection. It is simply a hypothetical idea that crossed my mind last night as I watched Smart and Oklahoma State crush South Florida…
Leading up to the 2013-14 college basketball season my thoughts on the 2014 Draft class were that either Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker would be the best fit for the 7-6. As I have watched both of those All-America caliber kids play this year, my pre-season thoughts have only been confirmed. Both are athletic, fantastic wing players who could step right in and start for Brett Brown. Either one would be a tremendous fit as a draft pick for the Sixers.
However, as other NBA teams continue to out-tank the 7-6 (I’m looking at you Suns, Jazz, Bucks and C’s. ) I have begun to take a much closer look at some of the other elite players in college basketball. So last night as I watched Oklahoma State demolish USF, I asked myself the following , “What if the Sixers aren’t in a position to select Wiggins or Parker? What if Hinkie is on the clock and Marcus Smart is the best player available? Would Smart be a good fit here?”
If we project ahead to the 2014-15 season, it’s almost a certainty that Evan Turner, James Anderson and Spencer Hawes will be gone and that the Sixers first-five will have at least two holes in it:
SF: Thad Young (potentially)
C: Nerlens Noel
On paper, the selection of Marcus Smart — an intense, athletic and skilled combo guard — could go one of two ways. The addition of Smart could create some very interesting lineup combinations for Brett Brown in 2014-15 that will foster the Sixers up-tempo style of basketball while adding some defensive resistance and a legit scoring threat in the half-court. If selected by the Sixers, Brown could simply pencil Smart in at the starting SG spot from day one. Or he could promote Wroten to the first-five and bring Smart in as the #1 option on second unit.
On the flip side of those positive items is the idea that drafting Smart could create a log-jam in the 7-6’s backcourt that will hinder the development of MCW, Wroten and Smart. One could argue that those three guards offer very similar skills sets and that selecting Smart in June 2014 would create a repetitive parts situation on the court. Let’s take a closer look at Smart’s skill set and see if we can reach a conclusion on whether or not he is a good fit for the 76ers…
Here’s a what draftexpress.com had to say about Smart during his the USA Basketball workouts this past summer…
“The leader of last summer’s USA Basketball squad that won the U18 FIBA Americas Championship, Marcus Smartwas available to join this U19 team after surprisingly electing to pass on entering the 2013 Draft, where he likely would have been a top-5 pick. Smart (re)established himself right off the bat as the leader of this team in the first few minutes of scrimmaging after the team was brought together, setting the tone for how this team is going to earn it’s keep. He was diving on the floor for loose balls, driving to the rim with reckless abandon, and playing terrific defense on anyone he was matched up against. When your best player is the toughest, most competitive guy in the gym at all times, and is so willing and happy to sacrifice his body for the sake of the team, it makes it that much easier for the rest of the roster to fall in line…While Smart’s jumper wasn’t falling all that consistently during the scrimmages, he made up for it in other areas, setting screens, posting up inside, making the extra pass, grabbing offensive rebounds, chasing down blocks in transition, and drawing fouls at will. He is somewhat of a power forward in a point guard’s body, seemingly enjoying taking contact around the paint with his ripped frame, playing with terrific aggressiveness and absolutely no ego…It goes without saying that it’s an incredible luxury for the coaching staff and USA Basketball to have a player like Smart leading the team, and it should increase this team’s chances of coming away with the gold exponentially.”
You had me at, “playing terrific defense on anyone he was matched up against…”. But then draftexpress threw in this gem, “When your best player is the toughest, most competitive guy in the gym at all times, and is so willing and happy to sacrifice his body for the sake of the team, it makes it that much easier for the rest of the roster to fall in line..” That line caused me to become giddy with excitement over the thought of Smart in a Sixers uniform.
Before I make a final decision om Smart, lets check out some video tape. First up is draftexpress.com’s preseason scouting video…
Next lets take a look at last night’s highlight reel from the Cowboys win over previously unbeaten South Florida…
Coming off a career-high 39 points (11-21 from field; 5-10 on 3’s) during last week’s 101-80 victory over Memphis, Smart scored 25 points overall on Monday night and made 8 of 13 shots (23 points) in the opening half. Smart took only three shots in the second half and didn’t score until making a pair of free throws with 3:22 remaining in the game. But it didn’t matter as this game was over at the half and it was obvious that Smart was willing to defer to teammates in the second stanza. Smart was 1-5 on 3’s and the only 3-pointer he made came on a heave from beyond midcourt at the halftime buzzer. Against South Florida, Smart hit 8-11 from the charity stripe, handed out 4 dimes and also snatched 4 steals.
Based on what I saw from Smart in the Memphis game as well as again last night vs. Sout Florida, he has only gotten better from his freshman year and Smart has delivered on the promise that he was going to make his jumper a more effective weapon (46% shooting this season). He dominated the first half of last night’s game with a variety of scoring moves: drives to the hoop; back-door alley-oops, runners in traffic and jumpers. So Smart is now an improved half-court player.
Additionally he’s still a hell of an athlete with ball handling skills so he can fill the lanes or push the rock himself in the Sixers fast break offense. As bonus, his leadership skills and defensive abilities / mindset have received rave reviews.
Projecting ahead to the 2014-15 season, it’s a lock that MCW will be the starting point and that Nerlens Noel will be Brown’s starting center. If Thad is still with the 76ers in 2014-15 he will continue to play the role of a “stretch-4” as he is currently doing under Brett Brown. Looking ahead to next year, the power forward spot remains a bit of a mystery to me.
However, there’s no doubt in my mind that a big (6-4; 220 lbs) combo guard who can fill it up at one end and play great defense at the other (9 steals in last 2 gms) would work perfectly in the SG spot alongside Carter-Williams. I’ll worry about the “log jam at the guard spots” problem if and when that issue develops.
In fact I am eager to bring a player of Smart’s ilk to this roster. It’s my hope that the addition of a player like Smart — He can score but als0 cares about defense and takes it personally. — can change the defensive culture in this team’s locker room.
NBA players have to WANT to play solid defense because being a good defender takes heart and dedication. Those traits frequently slip away from a player when they are getting paid millions of dollars to play a kid’s game. I don’t see the key defensive personality traits Smart possess in any of the current Sixers. By leading through example, Smart could possibly convince this group of youngsters to pull up their boot straps and give a significantly better effort on the defensive end. That would be tremendous step towards the building of a championship team here in Philadunkia nation.
So, if Marcus Smart is Sam Hinkie’s selection on Draft night 2014, have no fear Philadunkia nation because we could do a lot worse than adding this talented scoring machine who also excels at playing defense.
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