NBA Draft 2014: Marcus Smart and Elfrid Payton

Smart and Payton are the two top college PGs available in the 2014 draft. While the mysterious Dante Exum could exceed them both, when looking strictly at college players, Smart and Payton stand well above the crowd. The reason is both are young and both hit the important statistical benchmarks that most stars have hit. The big marks both players hit are .500 on 2PP while scoring 20+ P40 and an RSB40 over 9.0. As long as there are no other red flags like high turnovers or accomplishing this feat for the first time as a 5th-year senior like DeAndre Kane, players who hit these 3 benchmarks typically do very well as pros.

Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: It has been a tough year for Smart. After the 2013 season his announcement that he would return to OSU for his sophomore season sent drew both praise and puzzlement around the sporting press. Going back to college is a rare thing for a player considered a top pick. While it doesn’t make good business sense, it does suggest a certain level of character. The one thing everyone seemed to acknowledge was that Smart was not only a great prospect, but also a high character guy. This came into question after Smart lost his temper a couple of times on the court this past year, kicking a chair and shoving a loudmouth fan on different occasions.

As far as his play on the court, Smart’s sophomore year was one of growth and improvement:

Marcus Smart

2PP

3PP

P40

A40

S40

a/to

RSB40

Freshman

465

290

18.0

4.9

3.5

1.3

11.1

November

552

381

28.8

4.7

4.4

1.3

11.4

December

630

240

15.5

6.1

2.4

1.6

8.3

January

442

263

21.4

5.9

2.6

2.4

13.0

February

487

250

17.5

5.7

2.9

1.9

8.8

March

500

323

21.4

5.7

4.4

2.1

12.7

 

After Smart’s freshman year he was a player with a lot of promise, because of the high rate of steals and RSB40>10. But his offense was inefficient and he didn’t distribute the ball at a level or efficiency necessary for an NBA PG. In the first month of his sophomore season, the offense had improved a lot. It was good enough that for a time I considered him to be more of a SG than a PG.  In December is when he went from being an intriguing athlete to being a better player and a better prospect. His assist rate went up and his TO rate went down.  In the games starting with the conference schedule in January, Smart’s A/TO was an impressive 2.1.

It was not a good year for the Oklahoma State program and this had to have some effect on Smart and probably led to frustrations boiling over into the on court temper tantrums.  The Cowboys were ranked 8th and 12th in the two national polls going into the season. For a while they lived up to the hype. Then a 7-game losing streak that almost kept them out of the tournament happened. In fairness this was a team that had very little on the inside and they were playing in one of the nation’s top 2 conferences.

The temper tantrums are not to be dismissed, but they shouldn’t define Marcus Smart either. Keeping your wits about you is a big deal for a professional athlete. Especially in the NBA where the competitors are closer to the spectators than in any other sport and the fact that NBA players seem more under a microscope for bad behavior than players in any other sport. So Marcus is going to have to learn to keep his cool on the court. As talented as he is, Marcus Smart will be of little help to his team should he get himself suspended several games by going after the first idiot opposing fan who tries to bait him into a confrontation, which is something that will happen. While I consider these two incidences a non-issue for Smart as an NBA prospect, the fact that they happened means they could happen again.

Those concerns aside, Marcus Smart looks like an excellent PG prospect. He has great size and with his defensive abilities and 6’9” wingspan I could see him guarding several positions effectively. As a PG he has improved both his offense and his passing over his freshman year to the point that both would have to be considered a strength.  His double figure RSB40 puts him in a class with the best PGs ever. Marcus Smart is a truly great PG prospect who should be one of the first players off the board on draft night.

Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette: The first thing to know about Elfrid Payton is that he’s very young for a college junior. He only turned 20 in February, meaning he’s closer to a sophomore in terms of chronological age. He’s just 2 weeks older than Marcus Smart and only has 6 months on Tyler Ennis.  That’s a good thing for Payton, because he has come a long way from his days as a 17 year-old freshman:

Elfrid Payton

2PP

3PP

P40

A40

S40

a/to

RSB40

Freshman

409

0

11.9

4.8

1.7

1.0

8.0

Sophomore

494

327

18.0

5.6

2.5

1.7

9.1

Nov-Dec

530

207

26.7

7.7

2.9

1.4

10.8

Jan-Mar

548

320

16.9

5.5

2.2

1.9

8.6

 

As a freshman, Payton was a very raw player. He was inefficient and erratic, but had posted an impressive 8.0 RSB40. As a soph he improved across the board. As a junior he split his season, starting out as a scoring machine with a turnover problem and finishing up as a more settled, steady player and a better overall prospect. In each season his game improved a lot. His age suggests there is still a lot of room for improvement.

Since George Hill in the 2008 draft there has been an influx of successful small and mid-major college PGs drafted. Here’s a list of some who were successful, some who might yet be and others who didn’t quite make it.

Mid-Major PG

2PP

3PP

P40

A40

S40

a/to

RSB40

Stephen Curry

519

387

33.0

6.4

2.9

1.5

8.3

Damian Lillard

517

409

28.4

4.6

1.7

1.7

7.8

George Hill

580

450

23.3

4.7

1.9

1.5

9.7

Jeremy Lin

598

341

20.2

5.5

3.0

1.4

9.7

Elfrid Payton

541

259

20.1

6.2

2.4

1.6

9.3

Ray McCallum

562

323

19.8

4.7

2.1

2.2

8.1

Isaiah Canaan

494

370

22.5

4.4

1.6

1.4

5.4

DJ Cooper

510

364

18.0

9.1

2.6

2.4

6.9

Reggie Hamilton

467

420

28.8

5.7

2.2

1.4

6.4

Jimmer Fredette

491

396

32.3

4.8

1.5

1.2

5.4

 

Curry, Lillard and Hill were juniors when drafted, though Lillard and Hill were 4th-year juniors. The others were seniors. The only player on this list close to Payton in age when the numbers were posted is Curry who was 11 months older. The 4 successful players all topped the magic .500 2PP and posted at least 7.0 RSB40. The less successful players were below one or both marks. The exception there is McCallum who is off to a decent start as a rookie this past year in Sacramento. The thing about Payton is, while he doesn’t score at the level of the two best players, Lillard and Curry, he does fit in much better with the successful players than the unsuccessful ones statistically. Keeping his relative youth in mind, this bodes well for Payton as a prospect.

On his subpar 3PP shooting, I’ll only say that this is something that’s the least of my concerns with any prospect. Developing a reasonably effective 3-point shot is nowhere near as difficult as trying to find the NBA level athleticism a prospect displays by consistently posting a 9+ RSB40. I’m not saying that Payton will develop a reasonably effective 3-pointer as part of his offensive repertoire. But a player who has shown a lot of capacity to improve and has only attempted just over one 3-point attempt per game in his college career, hitting .289 the last couple of seasons, is a pretty strong candidate to develop this skill should he put the necessary time and effort into it.

Right now Elfrid Payton has to rank with Jordan Adams as one of the top sleepers of the 2014 draft class. He isn’t quite the prospect Smart is. Smart looks like a future star. Payton’s future is a little more gray. There are a lot of promising numbers, but his bust potential is higher because he took a few years to get things to this point and his numbers were put up against lesser competition. I believe players should be drafted on upside and Payton’s is pretty high. I consider him a top 10 prospect and a player who should not stay on the board past the lottery. He’s a player with a high ceiling who has displayed an ability to improve his game. He may need a couple of years to develop and adapt to the pro game, but his stats say he’s a potential all-star. He’s currently a bubble first rounder. That means some smart team, probably a playoff team from the West, is going to snap him up somewhere in the 20s and start him off in a bench role which is the situation that will be best for him.

1 comment for “NBA Draft 2014: Marcus Smart and Elfrid Payton

  1. June 4, 2014 at 9:35 pm

    I have to say that Payton’s three point shooting worries me (particularly when combined with his FT%, because I place some weight in the folk wisdom that players who have a high FT% can be taught to hit jump shots as well).

    You say that’s an easy skill to learn, but I’m curious who you would think of as examples. I can think of a few (most notably Kawhi Leonard, and Jimmy Butler) who were poor shooters in college but added the skill later, but they seem like exceptions, rather than the standard for expected development.

    I can also think of a lot of draft busts who had the physical tools but were never able to add a consistent outside shot (glancing over the last couple drafts I’d say: Jan Vesely, Evan Turner, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jerryd Bayless, Julian Wright, Rodney Stuckey, Ronnie Brewer) plus guys like DeRozan and Gerald Henderson who have developed a 3-point shot, but slowly, and it’s hindered their development. And that’s just looking at top-15 picks.

    It seems like a realistic reason for a player to not live up to potential / expectations.

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