The draft lottery hasn’t taken place just yet. It will take place on May 20th. While there is a small chance for the Lakers to get a pick in the top three, it’s far more likely to get a pick from #6-#9. At that #6 pick, Marcus Smart, as of right now, is likely the most popular player to slot at that position.
Marcus Smart has been well covered on this site, whether it’s a scouting report, a player comparison with Dante Exum, a player comparison with Tyler Ennis, or his progression as a player last year. Simply put, he’s a talented point guard with maturity and character beyond his age. Despite the incident against Texas Tech last year, he took responsibility for his actions, accepted the consequences, and moved forward. He started playing more efficiently on the floor after the incident, while leading up to the tournament. People forget, the kid is just 20 years old.
The Lakers need a prospect with those qualities. While the Lakers have had recent multiple signings of players in their mid-20′s, the playoff contending teams didn’t have such youth. Kobe’s championship teams were full of veterans, with rookie players that didn’t pan out. Guys like Andrew Goudelock, Darius Morris, Devin Ebanks, and Derrick Caracter did not make the cut. The team has been fortunate to have tremendous contributions from Ryan Kelly, who looks like a solid rotational player in the NBA and earned a few starts with the Laker team with great contributions. If those guys developed at a decent level, chances are, they would have had plenty of playing time last year.
While Marcus Smart is projected as a lottery pick and not 2nd round pick, the Lakers need this pick to work. There are lottery picks that have come nowhere near their NBA-level expectations. Smart, though, may be the safest pick, as well as the best player available. Sure, there may be players with more physical upside that are drafted after Smart, but they don’t have his combination of intangibles and talent as well.
This can really work out for the Lakers.
What other draft websites aren’t saying, is that Marcus Smart is a shooting guard playing point guard. He has had a few years to adapt to the position, but he isn’t the patient, creative playmaker on the level of Kyle Anderson or Tyler Ennis. He is unselfish as a player with developing court-vision. At his 6’2″ height with a 6’8″ wingspan at 226lbs., he’s an absolute bull-dog at the position. Unlike most teams, this actually works in the Lakers’ favor. Kobe Bryant is a guy that likes having the ball in his hands.
Unlike most players, Smart stays aggressive offensively both on-and-off the ball. Oklahoma State ran him through multiple screens for jumpshots, just as an NBA team would for Rip Hamilton or Ray Allen. They allowed him to backcut within the offensive set without breaking the offensive play. They allowed him in multiple post-up situations, where his court-vision and strength are best used. That kind of versatility from a point guard is rare. While the modern NBA thrives on quickness and speed, Smart can provide a different look, based on power, length, and versatility. Those qualities allow him to be more effective in the half-court set, where playoff teams tend to excel.
Defensively, he would add multiple dimensions to the perimeter. The NBA has softened perimeter defense, which may cause Marcus some foul trouble. However, unlike the rest of the draft crop, Marcus Smart has elite lateral quickness, elite length, and elite strength by position. It’s arguable that it’s the best combination of physical tools of the entire draft. Those are the qualities that would have had Smart going early in the lottery last season, and it’s also why it’s a co-captain for Team USA’s younger squads. He can set the tone defensively.
Kobe Bryant isn’t the defender he used to be. Before he tore his ACL, he stepped up as necessary. Now, Bryant’s defensive game is likely to resemble the role of Ron Harper’s; chasing shooters from screens, denying back-door passing lanes, and stripping the ball under the basket. The IQ has been there for Bryant, but he has never had a defensive talent such as Marcus Smart to help him.
This could end up as one of the best rebound off-seasons for the Lakers. Laker fans are happy Mike D’Antoni is gone. Laker management is taking time with their coaching decisions, instead of rushing. Now, we have a healthy Kobe Bryant working out, with the possibility of getting an ideal piece to work with him.
He may not have the jaw-dropping vertical ability of Andrew Wiggins, or the dynamic scoring ability of Jabari Parker, but he may be the best player available, the best fit next to Kobe Bryant, and the best character to carry the Lakers into the next transition of play.
We could only be so lucky.