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Magic fans should learn the name Marcus Smart

2013 March 2
by Andrew Melnick

smartAfter Orlando cleared house last summer and sent Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers, it was rather clear that it would be a long year for the Magic. At the moment, the Magic own the second worst record in the league and it’s highly likely that they will be the proud new owners of a top three draft pick come the May 21st Draft Lottery.

Of course, having the worst record doesn’t always lead to lottery success (Charlotte had the league’s worst record, but didn’t win the lottery, thus missing out on Kentucky big man Anthony Davis), but the team with the worst record always has the best chance to pick first, which is how the Magic originally landed Dwight Howard.

The 2013 draft isn’t considered to be strong. In fact, some think it could be the worst draft of the last few years. Entering the year many thought, UCLA freshman wing Shabazz Muhammad, Kentucky freshman big man Nerlens Noel or Indiana’s Cody Zeller, would be the top pick. However, recently those trends have started to shift towards two Big 12 stars – Kansas guard Ben McLemore and Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart, both freshman.

McLemore has been excellent, especially at home, but what the Magic have lacked for some time is someone who can consistently make plays with the ball in their hands. The Magic have some nice, young pieces in Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and Tobias Harris, but none of those players, even if they reach their ceiling, project to be that type of player that can transform the franchise. Marcus Smart does.

Smart is what many would call a combo guard. He has good size at 6’4, 225 and can score, but can also handle the ball. NBADraft.net compares his game to Rockets guard James Harden.

Smart, rated the 10th overall recruit in the class of 2012 by Rivals.com, is averaging 14.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.9 steals per game for OSU. He’s had some of his biggest games against the best competition, including a 20-point, seven-rebound, seven-assist performance in over then sixth ranked North Carolina State in November. He had 23 and 25 points in losses to two current top 15 teams, Gonzaga (who is expected to be the new #1 Monday) and Kansas State, respectively. Smart also had 25 points and nine rebounds while shooting nine-of-11 from the field in an upset win over then second ranked Kansas on February 2.

You’d like to see Smart be better with his shot selection – he’s shooting 40.3% from the floor and 30.2% from beyond the arc. Smart has posted a true shooting percentage of 53.5% and an effective field goal percentage of  only 45.7%. He also is turning the ball over at a high rate, averaging 3.2 turnovers per game. Clearly those numbers need to improve, but remember, he is just a freshman and he has been thrust immediately into a starring -and leadership- role for a team that has far surpassed expectations this season. Not to mention the general difference and challenge of floor spacing in the college game don’t particularly play to Smart’s strengths.

Smart has posted a PER of 24.4. He also is a tenacious, physical one-on-one defender. His 2.9 steals per game ranks him 5th in the NCAA. Reminder: you can’t coach size and you can’t coach effort.

Despite Smart’s rise up the draft boards, the Magic don’t necessarily need the #1 pick to land him. NBADraft.net currently has the Bobcats selecting McLemore should they land the first pick with the Magic taking Smart second. Chad Ford of ESPN.com has Smart ranked as the third best prospect behind McLemore and Noel.

Even if some teams do view Smart as the draft’s best player, they may choose to trade the pick or make another pick based on need. For example, the Washington Wizards have former top overall pick John Wall and last year’s lottery pick, Bradley Beal in the backcourt.  Charlotte, who is seeing improved play from Kemba Walker, would probably look to McLemore instead of Smart. Cleveland has one of the league’s future stars in Kyrie Irving at point guard (and also selected Dion Waiters last year). If any of those teams pick ahead of the Magic, barring a trade, Smart would probably remain on the board.

On the other hand Magic fans should probably hope teams like Sacramento, Phoenix, and New Orleans, who would likely have heavy interest in Smart, pick up a few more wins over the remainder of the season – and a few less ping pong balls.

Although Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore may develop into excellent professionals, as of right now, if Smart is on the board, he’s the choice. In a weak draft class, Smart’s upside at either guard position and his impeccable intangibles give Orlando the best chance to land the elite talent they need to return the franchise to relevance.

Andrew Melnick is the Sr. Distinguished Blogger for Magic Basketball Online and a contributor at SB Nation. Andrew has covered the Orlando Magic for four years and also works as a radio host. You can follow him on twitter here.