The Bucks are bad this season. A different kind of bad. The kind of bad that’s turned the average NBA fan in Milwaukee into a remote control savant on Saturday afternoons, keeping tabs on four or five college teams with potential high lottery picks. It’s been a while since this has happened, but damned if it isn’t a bit exciting.
Unfortunately, Bucksketball isn’t stocked with a roster of college basketball loving NBA writers. So we went searching the globe and found a couple of fellas who have a much better grasp on the current college landscape. This is the first post in a series from Greg Mason and Mike Gennaro analyzing potential Bucks draft picks from now until draft day.
Greetings from sunny Florida, Bucks fans! March Madness is less than a month away and in the weeks leading to the Big Dance we’re taking a look at the gems of this year’s highly touted draft class. We’ll start our journey by looking at part point guard part talking point, Marcus Smart. While Marcus Smart is no longer in the conversation as the potential top pick in this year’s draft, he could nevertheless end up in a Bucks uniform. Is this polarizing figure the right man for the Bucks?
Where Does He Fit?
- Imbalanced roster – too many tall skinny dudes
- Uncertain future at point guard – Nate Wolters is likely more of a backup and Brandon Knight is still developing
- Bad, but not crippling, contracts (OJ Mayo, Ersan Ilyasova, Zaza Pachulia, Larry Sanders (potentially))
- Scoring – Near the bottom of the league in ppg. Is this a question of personnel, leadership, coaching, lack of a floor general/facilitator or all of the above?
Smart, while he’s turned into something of a walking controversy of late, could potentially bring more stability to an unstable point guard situation in Milwaukee.
Where Could Milwaukee Get Him?
The Bucks have positioned themselves to earn a coveted top-4 pick in this year’s draft. Assuming that they finish with the worst record in the league, they stand a 25% chance of landing the first overall pick. While this is by most accounts an absolutely loaded draft, no player has separated himself as the clear cut top overall player in the class.
Although Marcus Smart is no longer in the conversation as the potential top overall pick, we’ll debate why he may in fact be the best option for the Bucks moving forward. It stands to reason that it would likely create a firestorm if the Bucks were to use a top-4 pick on Smart, passing up on a guy with a higher ceiling in the process. But, would it in fact be in the best interest of a team with so many holes to leverage their sexy top-4 pick for Marcus Smart and additional assets? Additionally, three Bucks have earned a spot on Bill Simmons’ annual “30 Worst Contracts in the NBA” report.
Smart is projected by Draft Express to go sixth to the Celtics. It’s no secret that Danny Ainge would love to see Jabari Parker in green and gold. So, let’s say that Ainge offers Marcus Smart and the #19 pick plus Brandon Bass in exchange for Jabari Parker and OJ Mayo. This would provide an additional first round pick, fill Milwaukee’s most glaring positional need and add muscle and cap relief in the form of Brandon Bass.
This strategy has gone very badly in the past.
Just ask Portland, who missed out on the chance to draft Chris Paul in 2005 when they swapped the third pick in the draft with Utah for the rights to the #6 (Martell Webster) and #27 (Linas Kleiza) picks. But for a team riddled with bad contracts and a severely imbalanced roster, practical considerations need to be considered. So the question is whether it is better to grab a less enticing but nonetheless very talented and NBA ready guy like Smart plus assets or swing for the fences with a potential-laden but unproven guy like Wiggins or Embiid?
Another question to consider moving into this draft is whether this draft contains any potential perennial all-first team NBA types; guys like Lebron, Durant, Duncan or Chris Paul whose presence alone gives you the chance to go deep into the playoffs season after season? If not, is selling high the way to go?
Marcus Smart Breakdown
So who is Marcus Smart? For those new to the college scene this year, he might just be the chair kicking, fan pushing, blog bashing, intense Oklahoma State guard that seems to be a character and personality risk at the next level. But is this the real Marcus Smart?
Smart’s freshman season with the Cowboys was better than expected. He averaged 33 minutes a game, scoring an average of 15.4 ppg with 5.8 rpg and 4.2 apg while swiping 3 steals a game. On the flipside, he shot just under 29% from 3-point land and 40% from the field, while turning the ball over an eye-popping 3.4 times a game. Additionally, despite showing a knack for finding open teammates, especially in transition, his assist totals were relatively modest. But this was his first full-time stint at PG, a position that he wasn’t used to playing. What separates Smart from the other point guards in this year’s draft is his elite size (6’4” and 225lbs), his motor – he is a workhorse and his extreme competitiveness. When the road gets rough he will be the leader and carry the team on his back.
On the defensive end Smart can be very disruptive. He has lightening quick hands, anticipates passing lanes and has the ability to lock in when he needs to. He is a bit like Corey Brewer in his desire to reach and gamble for steals. He struggles to stay in front of quicker guards so he will have to learn how to compensate for his lateral deficiencies at the next level. Yet, for a guard he can rebound because of his size and does a great job looking for ways to help his team win games.
Marcus Smart was a projected lottery pick last season, but decided to give it one more chance at the college level – try to win the tourney and fine tune his craft before making the leap to the big league. While last year’s draft was guard heavy (Victor Oladipo, Ben McLemore, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Trey Burke, CJ McCollum, and Michael Carter Williams all went in the lottery) Smart nevertheless took a risk to come back to one of the deepest drafts in recent memory. Fortunately for Smart, elite point guards (Smart can play both guard positions) are lacking in this year’s lottery. This will definitely work to his advantage come draft night.
But will he become a better shooter? Will he live up to the comparisons that he can be the next Russell Westbrook? Like Westbrook, he has never seen a shot that he doesn’t like and will command 10-15 shots a night at the very least. He is not as quick as Westbrook, or as much of a freak athlete, but like Westbrook, he is very aggressive, can score and facilitate.
But the Marcus Smart that came back for another year at Oklahoma State must feel like he is in a nightmare off and on the court. The Cowboys are 16-10, losers of 7 straight, and in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament (he missed the last 3 serving his suspension for the push). With the exception of cutting down slightly on turnovers and averaging 17.5 points per game, up 2.1 from last season, the rest of his numerical categories are down.
In the January 25th matchup against a physical West Virginia squad in which he totaled just 4 points in 25 minutes before fouling out, Smart lost his composure and kicked a chair to show his frustration. The game itself was very physical, witnessing 56 fouls and 66 foul shots combined. Some might say that’s the kind of intensity you want, willing to kick chairs and fire up his team, while others see it as a whiny kid displaying the first signs of a personality problem that will fester at the next level. It goes without saying that these concerns were exacerbated after he pushed a Texas Tech fan on Feb 8th.
You can make your own opinion of the Smart push, but one thing is for sure – this season has not gone as expected. And somehow, his draft position has not slid this season (but he was at one point last season slated as high as #2). In fact, he is hovering this year around the number 5-7 pick in the draft (in a much more talented draft). His talent will transcend, but the question now is how much and how good can he be? Will losing at the next level and more intense heckling from fans push him over the edge? Or will he use it to fire his game as he is trying to do in the college game? He will always be outspoken. Does this Bucks team want some attitude and swagger, a floor general?
Alright, hypothetical situations aside, if the Bucks find themselves drafting in the 4-6 spot in the draft, can you really pass up on Smart?
Sure he doesn’t have the upside of a Parker, Wiggins, or Randle. But he is a year older, blessed with a man’s body, and ready to step in and lead a team tomorrow. He might be the ideal partner to tag team with Giannis looking forward. Let’s be honest, is there anyone else on the team you want here in 4 years leading the Bucks? That is what this draft pick means. It is the second building block to match with Giannis. And it better be made with careful consideration.
Smart has his limitations but he possesses all of the intangibles that you could ask for in a floor leader. When asked about Smart following the incident in Lubbock, ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla noted, “To me, Marcus’ greatest strength is also at times his greatest weakness, which is his ubercompetitiveness. What separates him from every other player in the country is his desire to win, but at the same time it’s something that occasionally gets him in trouble because he has got to able to channel the energy when things don’t go his way.”
Do you draft the best athlete/player (upside) regardless if you have someone at that position already, or do you draft for need? In this case, drafting at the 4-6, we might argue that need trumps upside. Especially if he can ball, and Smart can ball and lead your team.
Most Important Question: HOW DOES HE FIT WITH GIANNIS?
Of the 6 gems headlining this year’s draft Smart fills the biggest need on a team with many. His skills as a floor leader and facilitator would be a welcome addition in Buckland. He is especially adept at pushing the ball and finding open men in transition. Giannis, the affable Greek gazelle, loves to run and would team well with Smart in the open court.
Despite having devoted a large portion of their salary cap to the front court, Milwaukee currently ranks 25th in the league in rebounding. Smart is an excellent rebounder from the guard position. It remains to be seen whether he will improve his shooting and decision making skills.
He needs to tighten his handle, take better shots and become a better shooter. If he’s able to do those things he’ll grow as a half court fit with Antetokounmpo, another shaky jump shooter at the moment.
But the shooting, the handle and his decisions as a shot maker are things that can be improved with time. His mediocre athleticism is another question altogether. Time will tell whether his lack of explosiveness will prevent him from becoming a top-tier point guard in the league. Finally, his ferocious attitude is considered a strength by some and a liability by others. John Hammond and the Bucks brass will have to decide whether or not Marcus is in fact the smart choice for the Bucks moving forward.