If you're looking for a prospect who has exceptional athletic ability and can create himself on all three levels of the floor, look no further than former North Carolina State point guard Dennis Smith Jr. to pair alongside Devin Booker long-term. However, where would that leave Eric Bledsoe? That's the question everyone will be asking if Ryan McDonough drafts one of the remaining point guards at No. 4.
When comparing Smith Jr. to let's say De'Aaron Fox and Lonzo Ball, the amount of talent around them compared to him is pretty substantial. UCLA's offense was able to space the floor around Ball's strengths, while Kentucky's athletic guards and bigs were able to keep up with Fox in transition and let him get to the rim at will or kick it out to an open Malik Monk on the perimeter. However, Smith Jr. many times was forced to create for himself and will the Wolfpack into games at points throughout the season.
Outside of the consensus top pick in this year's draft, Markelle Fultz, Smith Jr. has the biggest potential to become a 20-plus point per game scorer. His thunderous dunks and explosions to the rim were very reminiscent of a more toned down Russell Westbrook.
The former Wolfpack floor general shines in pick-and-roll situations, where a team like Phoenix would have him fit right in alongside Marquese Chriss or Dragan Bender in those scenarios. With the spacing that NBA teams play with compared to the college level, Smith should have an easier transition than most guards in this class. He fits much better in an NBA-style system, especially the one Earl Watson runs in Phoenix.
Another area Smith Jr. is able to excel is in isolation. He's able to have an explosive first step and stay a half-step ahead of his defender and has the strength to lower his shoulder and create separation on the way up to the rim. Even after tearing his ACL the year prior, you could tell Smith Jr. was still trying to gather himself. I expect an even more athletic version of him next year wherever he lands, which is a scary thought.
If I had to say one thing that could hinder him on the next level in isolation is his tendency to go to the left three-fourths of the time. He'll have to be a little more unpredictable with that, but many times defenders knew he was going left and still couldn't be stopped.
For the pro-trade Bledsoe crowd (includes me if they are unable to swing a trade for Jimmy Butler this summer), Smith Jr.'s excellent transition ability sets him up well as a fit with the Suns. He will likely never be the pesky defender that Bledsoe is, but he's more than capable, especially in pushing the tempo for the offense. He doesn't have the elite vision in finding the open man, but the capabilities Smith Jr. has to drive to the rim and kick it out to the corner where Booker could be waiting is oh so tantalizing.
Smith Jr.'s three-level scoring potential lies in his numbers last year, where he shot 65.7% in the restricted area and was able to create in the mid-range with jumpers and stepbacks. However, that area was his lowest percentage, whereas his three-point percentage actually was up around 30-plus percent from the left and middle areas, where he then bumped it up to 43.1% from the right side beyond the arc. It shows that his offensive potential is there and could continue to grow as he matures his game.
Also, when comparing him to the other top three point guards in this class, who are all likely to go ahead of Smith Jr., North Carolina State's offense suffered the most when he was taken off the court. Even higher than Fultz, but that speaks to the utter lack of talent former head coach Mark Gottfried was unable to bring to Raleigh.
However, back on Smith Jr.'s defense, at points during games I watched while scouting him it was pretty obvious he wasn't putting his full effort in. Many times he got beat on simple moves on the perimeter and wasn't able to catch up or simply didn't use his athleticism to hs advantage. This will leave him as a one-tool defender who can only guard 1's on the next level. He could just need better coaching on the defensive end to get his full potential out of him, but he might have to be hidden against a team's non-shooter at least in the beginning of his career.
Fit in Phoenix
Smith Jr.'s explosive offensive ability makes him put in consideration for the Suns at No. 4 overall, which if fully developed could make him easily a multi-time All-Star alongside a likely 20-plus point scorer as well in Booker. That's the big if, though. Will he take the next step? In Phoenix, I certainly think it is possible.
He would not have to shoulder a load of an offense, instead of if he went to Orlando lets say (which I think is highly likely if slips past the Suns). Being a complementary scorer to Booker would help ease his transition along, while also possibly learning from Bledsoe for a year or so. I would have to think Bledsoe would be shipped at the deadline if they select Smith Jr. or Fox to hand them the keys to the offense in the second half.
Compared to Fultz, Ball and Fox, Smith Jr. does not have that elite trait that the other ones have. He's very good at a lot of things for an NBA system, but his athleticism and creative ability for others will have to continue to develop for him to take that leap above them.
Personally, it speaks to just how insanely deep the top crop of point guards are in this class. I could easily see all four having major impacts on their respective franchises for years.
Smith Jr. would give the Suns a cheaper version of Bledsoe, but with more scoring prowess and ability to take over ball games. (And don't get me wrong, Bledsoe did that plenty but Smith Jr. is also younger and more moldable obviously.) The defense would dip with Smith Jr., but if he buys into the system on both ends I don't see how he could not at least be a serviceable defender who isn't a red flag on that end.
What comparison would I make for Smith Jr.? Well, I think he's the most explosive point guard in this draft, he and Fultz are neck and neck. If he's able to develop a reliable jump shot, Steve Francis makes a ton of sense for his ceiling as a player.
If the board breaks for McDonough and Co. where they believe Smith Jr.'s ceiling on the offensive end trumps lets say the defensive versatility a Jonathan Isaac would bring at No. 4, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if he's selected.
Would he by my choice ahead of others at No. 4? Personally, no, but the 2017 draft class is the deepest I've ever scouted, especially in the top 20 prospects.
I see Smith Jr.'s range being anywhere from 3-10 come draft night, but he's definitely going to be an immediate impact player on the next level. We'll just have to see if he's donning the purple and gold alongside Booker in the backcourt or elsewhere.