The strength of the 2017 NBA draft has been widely acknowledged for some time now. While there are multiple prospects that were at one point in time considered legitimate possibilities for the first pick, there is no doubting the depth of top-flight point guards is what really separates this from previous years.
Today, it’s assumed that Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball will be the first two players selected, although the strong play of De’Aaron Fox towards the end of the season has given him momentum to also challenge for a top pick. Slightly behind those three, Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr round out a group of 5 PG’s that are regarded as prospects who have the potential to develop into above average lead guards in the NBA.
While we will soon cover all of these prospects in depth, the remainder of this article will focus on NC State’s Dennis Smith
Despite tearing his ACL in his senior season of high school, Smith is still considered one of the most explosive players available in this year’s draft. He was rated as a top 10 recruit and one of the two best PG’s coming into the 2016/17 NCAA season. However, he has seen his stock fall after a disappointing season where his team missed the NCAA tournament, and his head coach lost his job.
Before we explore Smith’s strengths, I think it’s important to acknowledge his flaws and be clear about the reason’s he is currently regarded in a tier below Fultz, Ball, and Fox.
Smith possesses below-average size for a PG prospect. We don’t have recent measurements as Smith opted out of participating in the NBA combine, but he was previously measured at just over 6 feet with a 6”3” wingspan by USA basketball. This lack of elite size hinders his versatility on offense and significantly limits his ability on defense. There is no doubting Smith’s ability to stay in front of his man and fight through screens, but in any situation where he is asked to switch onto another position he offers little resistance to players who are capable of shooting over the top of him.
If you’ve seen Smith play, it’s easy to see what makes him a terrific offensive prospect. His athleticism is his most obvious attribute, as he is capable of routinely blowing past his defender and finishing above the rim in spectacular fashion.
While he may not yet be at the level of Russell Westbrook or Zack Levine, it’s worth noting that most medical experts maintain that it takes over a year to fully recover from an ACL tear. As Smith is already such a standout… it’s easy to understand why many are excited about what he may be able to do next season.
Unlike many other exceptional athletes in the NCAA, Smith combines this athleticism with a high level of skill. He may not be as good of a shooter as Fultz, but it’s fair to say that he’s the next best in the group of PG’s at the top of the draft. He shows a compact and repeatable stroke that saw him finish the season over 35% from 3pt range and over 70% from the line.
While these figures are solid in their own right, it’s Smith ability to create his own shot off the dribble that really separate him from other prospects.
Smith’s small stature actually favors him in this aspect when combined with his explosive athleticism and tight handle. He excels at navigating through traffic, and it allows him to either create space for himself or find the man left open by his double-team.
Given the lack of talent and shooting around him, this is yet another aspect of his game where it’s reasonable to expect improvement over time. If he is fortunate enough to land in a situation where he can run a pick-and-roll surrounded by shooters and/or a rim-rolling center, it’s easy to see him carving up NBA defenses.
While these three aspects of Smith’s game allow him to be an above average offensive player, what truly makes him an elite PG prospect is his ability to play at different speeds, take what the defense gives him, and complete every type of pass. In this video we see him initiate the offense, re-adjust when the defense forces the ball back, beat his man and find the open big under the basket::
It’s true that Smith is not on the same level as Lonzo Ball in regards to his vision and creativity, and does not have the size and shooting ability of Markelle Fultz. He also lacks to blazing speed and defensive tenacity of De’Aaron Fox. However, he has shown the ability to excel as a primary ball handler in a number of different aspects.
Smith is currently projected to be a lock for the top 10, and individual workouts may see him work his way closer to the top… but if 2016 and Justice Winslow have taught us anything, it’s never wise to make assumptions. If Smith is fortunate enough to land in a proper setting he could very well become a steal in the mid-to-late lottery.
Featured image: Grant Halverson/Getty Images