The debate over who is the best player in the second tier of the 2023 NBA Draft has been widely discussed for some time. While at one point, Nick Smith Jr was considered in tier one, he has slipped some after his sole season in college basketball with the Arkansas Razorbacks. Several factors outside of his control led to the slip and despite still being a probable lottery pick, Smith Jr could end up being the steal of the 2023 NBA Draft. His skill set has plenty of NBA upside, but there are some important things to note when talking about the NBA guard prospect.
Nick Smith Jr is an ideal size to be an NBA player and just looks like one when playing on the court. One could say he passes the eye test from a physical standpoint after one season of college basketball. Smith Jr is listed at 6’5″ and 185 pounds which is tall enough but he will need to bulk up some when he gets to an NBA weight room. While his height is good for the NBA it is his wingspan that really pops off the page when looking at his measurables. Smith Jr has had his wingspan measured around 6’9″ which is very good for a 6’5″ guard coming into the league. Pairing these numbers with Smith’s top-level speed makes him a tantalizing prospect for NBA teams picking between five and ten. Smith is incredibly quick with and without the ball in his hands and could be one of the quicker prospects in the draft.
Nick Smith Jr could grow into a prototype go-to scoring guard one day in the NBA. He has all the tools in his kit but will need to put them all together. In his limited time on the court for the Arkansas Razorbacks, he showed flashes of being able to score on all three levels with or without the ball in his hand. While he is very good with the ball in his hands at his best, he does need to work on making better decisions at times. As a freshman with the Arkansas Razorbacks, Nick Smith Jr averaged 12.5 points per game. He paired those numbers with a field goal percentage of 37.6 percent and a three-point percentage of 33.8 percent. Scoring is critical in the NBA and at this point, it is hard to be a lottery prospect without being a good scorer or showcasing your potential there. Smith Jr. certainly has the potential but will need some polish once he makes the NBA. The combo guard can learn to score with some of the best guards in the NBA one day.
With Nick Smith Jr the discussion can almost be boiled down to one single word, and that is potential. While he missed significant time in college, when he was at his best, Smith Jr showed exactly why he was the number one overall recruit coming out of high school in the 2022 class. There was a time early in college when he was viewed as the best prospect coming out of college for the 2023 NBA Draft. With his size, wingspan, and speed paired with his ability to score, Smith Jr could be exactly what a rebuilding team with young talent needs to complete their roster for the future. “One and done” guards enter the NBA every year and their success rate really depends on the work they put in and the situation they land in when they are drafted. The Arkansas guard will need to land in the right spot with a coaching staff that can maximize his potential at the next level.
Overall Nick Smith Jr was injured for most of the college basketball season and getting an overall read on him has been difficult. The freshman guard did not finish well at all in college and saw a major drop-off around the rim from high school. He was actually one of the worst guards when finishing around the rim in all of college basketball. Smith Jr also did not showcase as a good defender this season and at times looked downright bad on that end of the court. He seemed to lack engagement on defense and got lost sometimes when playing defense. It is impossible to say how much of this were the injuries, how much was a skill issue, and how much was just him failing to engage with the defensive scheme. Both are things he can clean up in the NBA but are major concerns when talking about his basketball future.
NBA Comparison: CJ McCollum
Nick Smith Jr and CJ McCollum are both scoring-minded guards that have the ability to take the ball up the court and play some point guard for their teams. While both have some clear deficiencies in some areas, scoring the basketball makes up for a lot in the NBA. The Arkansas Razorbacks freshman will need to further develop as a passer for this comparison to work in the NBA. He certainly has the skill but needs something to click when he gets to the NBA. His draft spot will be vital this year and he needs the right coaching staff to maximize who he can be in the NBA. His rookie season could be a “down” year but don’t give up on hm after one year in the league.