Marcus Smart, as you may have heard, is practicing with the USA Select Team helping Team USA prepare for the World Cup of Basketball in Spain this September. You may have heard this because apparently he’s tearing things up. Yesterday, multiple outlets noted that Smart was part of a unit that’s giving NBA stars like Damian Lillard, John Wall, Kyrie Irving and many more top point guards real fits on both ends of the court.
Why should you be excited? Let’s hit it.
1. The competition is stiff.
This is the no-brainer. Not only are some of the league’s top point guards and shooting guards taking part in these practices, the odds are stacked against Smart’s team. The Select Team, generally, is the Washington Generals to the regular squad’s Harlem Globetrotters. They are placeholders — players who are putting feet in the door for future teams, but not actually looking to make the team. But according to noted Rajon Rondo advocate Jeff Goodman, Smart is one of the players drawing rave reviews in Vegas.
Rave reviews continue to pour in from Vegas from coaches in attendance on Marcus Smart & Victor Oladipo. Both impressive on practice squad.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) July 30, 2014
2. It’s not just Smart’s defense drawing praise.
During Summer League, I saw Marcus Smart pull something off I’ve never seen before. After turning the ball over on the offensive end, Smart chased down the opposing ball-handler in transition and moved him off the ball. I don’t know how else to explain what happened — Smart was behind the ball-handler, and then — almost like a magic trick — he had pushed the ball-handler forward and was suddenly dribbling. When I describe the play, it sounds like a foul, but it wasn’t. It was just Smart being bigger, stronger and more aggressive on the defensive end.
That’s a long way of saying that Smart’s defense isn’t the question mark in his game. The biggest question mark, clearly, is his shooting, and according to multiple people at Team USA’s camp, his shooting has looked great.
Marcus Smart is lighting it up. Just hit three consecutive 3s at #USAmbb minicamp
— Matt Gibson (@DimeMatt) July 29, 2014
One caveat: The international 3-point line is a tad shorter than the NBA line, and it’s also true that sometimes shooters get hot and knock down a bunch of jumpers in a row. But frankly, if Smart can even be a streaky 3-point shooter next season, that will be super encouraging. Boston doesn’t need him to be Ray Allen next year. The Cs just need him to be a shooter defenses have to respect, and they’ll have to respect him if they know he can heat up and hurt them. If defenders can’t sag back and go under every screen, Smart’s ability to get into the lane (and, by extension, to the line) is going to be nasty, whether Boston is playing him at point or shooting guard.
3. Smart is outplaying All-NBA point guard talent.
Bobby Gonzalez, a contributor for SheridanHoops.com, used to be a head coach at Manhattan and Seton Hall. Here were his thoughts on Smart:
I did manage to watch the point guards a bit. Damian Lillard was disappointing, and there was a stretch where both Marcus Smart and Victor Oladipo of the Select Team flat-out took it to Wizards teammates John Wall and Bradley Beal…While there is a point guard battle going on with the national team, the Select Team had young point guards who also did some damage today, further stressing that the future of the point position in the NBA is in good hands with Marcus Smart and Trey Burke.
It’s interesting to note that Team USA — despite absurd depth at the position and less depth at shooting guard — has Smart playing point guard, at least according to Gonzalez. I like the strategy though: Lillard, Wall and company certainly aren’t going to face a more physically imposing point guard in international play.
4. This bodes well for Smart’s future with Team USA.
We touched on this above: Smart won’t be playing for the national squad this season, but a good performance with the Select Team will put him in contention for future spots assuming his career has a positive trajectory. Kyrie Irving, you may recall, destroyed a who’s who of top NBA talent in 2012, and now he’s in a good position to play for the squad this season. Much of the praise surrounding Irving in 2012 sounds similar to Smart’s positive reviews this week.
Another small caveat: If Smart ends up playing long NBA seasons that extend into the playoffs (as we certainly hope he does soon), it might actually be kind-of-sort-of a bad thing if he’s in the Team USA pipeline. After all, Kevin Love is getting hammered for not participating in the World Cup.
But that’s a looong ways down the road, and it would silly of us to worry about it right now, in part because…
5. Team USA culture is strong.
There’s a reason people want players like DeMarcus Cousins to participate in Team USA: The culture is very strong.
Sometimes, culture can be overblown. “Culture” isn’t going to fix every problematic-but-talented player, nor is it necessarily going to force talented-but-lazy players to improve their work ethic (*coughs pointedly at James Harden’s abysmal defense*). What it might do, however, is help set a young player like Marcus Smart — already lauded for his work ethic and attitude — on a solid path for his future. Kevin Durant — one of the hardest workers in today’s game — allegedly saw how LeBron James prepared for Team USA and was inspired to put the same time and energy into his own game. The results have shown: Durant was this season’s MVP, and he deserved the award.
Smart, by all accounts, has a leader’s mentality already. Being around players like Durant and learning from their work ethic can only help going forward.
I am the excites. You should be too.
For Brian’s take on Smart, check out his story on Boston.com.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.