Had Marcus Smart decided to leave Oklahoma State after his freshman year and enter into what was perceived as a weak NBA draft, he might well have gone to the Orlando Magic with the No. 2 overall pick.
One year later, there’s a decent possibility of him ending up with them after all.
Smart has worked out twice for the Magic since they found out last month at the draft lottery that they’ll be picking behind Cleveland, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. It wasn’t until this past week that they brought in Dante Exum, the other point guard being given serious consideration by them.
Unlike Exum, Smart has a body of work with which front-office personnel and fans have become familiar. He also has a body more commonly associated with NFL outside linebackers or possession-type wide receivers than someone who hands out assists.
But just as Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker have faced questions about their subpar games when their respective schools were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament before the Sweet 16, Smart has been asked to rehash what happened during the regular season during a loss at Texas Tech. He shoved a fan in the stands following a verbal altercation and drew a three-game suspension, although to Smart’s credit, he came back from that time away re-focused.
"I told them that’s something that happened that’s in the past," he said in May at the draft combine in Chicago. "I’m not proud of it. But I’m trying to move on from that. I’ve got bigger and better things I’m looking forward to in my life. If I’m too busy looking in the past, how can I see what’s in front of me with the future?"
It’s a future which could include him being paired with Victor Oladipo in the Magic’s backcourt for years to come.
At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds with a wingspan of over 6-9, Smart is a physical player who has a chance to stand out on the defensive end of the floor. The numbers from his sophomore season indicate how well-rounded of a player he is. He averaged 18 points and nearly six rebounds and five assists a game.
But statistics alone aren’t what him a lottery pick. Smart has been described as an incredible competitor with uncommon toughness and leadership skills. Those things which can’t be measured might stand out more than the ones which can.
As was the case with Oladipo going into last year’s draft and Exum this year, there are doubts about which guard position suits Smart best. His assist-to-turnover ratio isn’t ideal for a point guard, and his shooting percentage — particularly from 3-point range (.299) — isn’t ideal for a shooting guard.
In an era where one-and-done college stars seem to be the rule rather than the exception, Smart’s decision to bypass the draft a year ago is highly commendable. But did he really improve that much? And how much better can he get in the NBA?
Despite the much-publicized incident that gained him all sorts of unwanted attention, Smart is frequently called a person of high character. He could be a natural successor to Jameer Nelson both on the floor and in the locker room. And unlike Nelson, who shot only 112 free throws in 68 games last season, Smart gets to the line a lot. The Magic need more players with that sort of ability.
WHY THE MAGIC SHOULD AVOID HIM
Chances are he wouldn’t complement Oladipo as much as be a mirror image of him. While Oladipo’s 3-point accuracy improved as the season went on, would Jacque Vaughn and the rest of the Magic coaching staff be willing to show the same type of patience with Smart in that area? Even with the uncertainty now surrounding Kansas center Joel Embiid, there are players better-suited to the Magic’s style of play who should be around at No. 4.
In Oklahoma State’s loss to Gonzaga, Smart became the first player to ever have at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals in an NCAA tournament game.