Russ Smith, 6-foot point guard, Louisville
2013-14 stats: 18.2 PPG, 4.6 APG, 3.3 RPG, .705 FT%
One of the more polarizing players in the college game in recent years, Smith has a hate-it-or-love-it quality to his style of play, with his perceived deficiencies as pronounced as his positive attributes. His development and winning track record over his four-year college career is undeniable, but even with his speed, defensive ability and natural scoring instincts, there are concerns about how Smith’s skill set will translate to the next level. Although doubts persist about his size and whether there’s a role for his unconventional game, Smith’s resume alone will warrant an NBA opportunity.
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Career highlights: The New York City product played sparingly as a freshman, averaging only 5.6 minutes per game, then emerged as an instant-offense sixth man as a sophomore, posting averages of 11.5 points and 2.2 steals per game, with games like a 24-point, seven-steal effort against Memphis and a 30-point outing against Kentucky, helping Louisville reach the Final Four. As a junior, Smith averaged 18.7 points and 2.1 steals per game, earning first team all-Big East and third team All-American honors, while helping lead the Cardinals to the national championship. His senior year, Smith’s per-game averages were 18.2 points, 4.6 assists, 3.3 rebounds and two steals, while shooting 46.8 percent from the field and 38.7 percent from three-point range, winning American Athletic Conference tournament most outstanding player honors, making first team All-American and all-American Athletic Conference, with games along the way like a 36-point outburst against North Carolina, a 13-assist performance against Connecticut and a career-high 42 points against Houston.
Strengths: Smith might be the quickest player in the draft and he uses that asset on both ends of the floor, from the ability to pressure his opponents for the full length of the court to create turnovers, to being a terror in transition and being able to get into the lane virtually at will. An improved distributor, Smith has the ability to set up his teammates and though he’s a streaky shooter, he’s a threat from deep range and is very capable of getting on a roll from the outside. His intangibles might be his best trait, however, as he has great toughness, particularly for his size, doesn’t shy away from big moments and wills himself to make an impact on the game.
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Weaknesses: Although Smith has improved as a floor general, he’s still prone to careless turnovers and poor shot selection, which belie his nature as a scorer. Defensively, he takes risks and while they sometimes pay off, more often than not, they can leave his teammates in tough situations. A lack of size is something that Smith has always been able to overcome, but at the next level, it becomes more problematic, as more of his point-guard counterparts can match his quickness, but also are much bigger than him.
Draft projection: A solid early-to-mid second-round prospect, Smith’s stock could be enhanced by the pre-draft workout process, as his competitiveness and tenacity make it easy to envision him making a strong impression on teams. Wherever he ends up, Smith must demonstrate the ability to run an offense in summer league and grasp concepts quickly in training camp, but he already has a set niche as an instant-offense, high-energy, pressure-defending reserve, a role in which other diminutive, shoot-first players like him have thrived in recently. If he ends up in the right situation, with a team that values his positives and is willing to be patient in regards to his flaws, Smith could be an immediate contributor and have the opportunity to be a valuable long-term role player.