Weekly NBA draft prospect watch: Marcus Smart’s stock likely dropping
|02.13.14 at 4:12 pm ET|
The Celtics head into the All-Star break with a record of 19-35. With this season’s diluted NBA product, that gives them the sixth-worst record in the league.
Even the smallest of streaks makes a difference when it comes to the number of ping pong balls owned come lottery time. Boston got hot and won 4-of-5 games starting on Super Bowl Sunday, a streak that took them from the third-highest odds of winning the lottery to the eighth. The C’s fell to the Spurs on Wednesday night, though, which, combined with unlikely recent wins by the Jazz and Cavaliers, has them sitting in the sixth spot.
The Celtics are on pace for about 28 wins by season’s end, but with the trade deadline around the corner, and the tanking only expected to become more obvious, no predictions are safe. The C’s could find themselves selecting anywhere in the lottery, which makes for excitement but also causes uncertainty.
Here’s a look at what some of the top draft prospects have done in the past week, plus a brief look at some players on the rise.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, sophomore ‘ As everyone knows by now, Smart only hurt his draft status in the past week. On Saturday night at Texas Tech Smart had a decent game, but his name was in the headlines for another reason.
With 6.2 seconds left, and the Cowboys on their way to a fourth consecutive loss, Smart’s frustration boiled over in the worst way. Falling into the crowd going for a block, Smart was helped up, but he did not head to the court as expected. Instead he went deeper into the crowd and argued with a fan who had been heckling him. Smart then shoved the fan, which isn’t tolerated in any sports forum.
Both the fan and Smart have since apologized for their actions, but that was not enough to save Smart from a suspension. Smart missed his team’s blowout loss to Texas on Tuesday, and will miss the next two games to round out a three-game ban. His return, oddly enough, will come against Texas Tech, but this time on Oklahoma State‘s home floor.
“Marcus made a big mistake [Saturday] night, he knows that,” Cowboys coach Travis Ford said Sunday. “We talked about it extensively. He knows we don’t condone things of that matter. He has owned up to it.’
Added Ford: ‘Marcus is a young man that has been in the public eye for quite a bit. And I think we’d all agree for the highest percentage of the time, he’s conducted himself as a tremendous young man. But he made a mistake that he’s going to pay for.”
Smart probably will end up paying a steeper price than his three-game suspension once the draft rolls around.
The main reasons Smart returned to school were to improve his 3-point shooting and become more mature. He is shooting only 28 percent from behind the arc this season, and clearly maturity remains an issue. Smart will have to show serious improvement in those two areas to even keep his draft stock where it was, but in all likelihood it already has begun to drop.
Jabari Parker, Duke, freshman – Picture how bad Saturday night was for Smart. Now picture the opposite — that was Parker’s Saturday evening in Chestnut Hill.
With Danny Ainge sitting front row at the Conte Forum, Parker had a career night for the Blue Devils. He torched Boston College for 29 points and 16 rebounds (both season highs), to go along with three blocks while shooting 12-of-17 from the field.
‘Jabari was a monster today,’ Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. said afterward. ‘He played more like a veteran.’
That seems to be how many feel on a nightly basis. Wrote ESPN insider draft analyst Chad Ford on Parker’s versatility: ‘He might be the most well-rounded freshman forward since Carmelo Anthony. Like Anthony, there’s a belief that his play alone could deliver Duke a national title. Although best college player doesn’t always mean best NBA prospect, in Parker’s case, it just might.’
High hopes indeed. Some, like myself, even believe that Parker is more well-rounded than Anthony was as a freshman.
Joel Embiid, Kansas, freshman – Embiid is struggling through multiple injuries this week. The big man has a sprained knee as well as back issues that most likely are going to cause him to miss some time.
In his last three games Embiid has not topped 18 minutes, and that 18-minute stint came in Monday’s overtime loss to Kansas State in which he committed only one foul. Clearly something is wrong.
The first thing that comes to mind is Greg Oden. If the injuries continue for Embiid it certainly will raise eyebrows about him being the No. 1 overall pick, simply because of what we have seen in the past. But Embiid is much smoother than Oden, and most big men for that matter. He graces the court much like a small forward, which should keep scouts optimistic.
Said Jayhawks coach Bill Self: ‘Joel is beat up. He’s beat up. I’m not going to make an excuse for him because you have to perform. But he’s going to need some time off. I don’t know how much time, but he’s going to need some time off.’
Embiid’s status for Saturday’s game against TCU was unknown as of Thursday, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him sit out a game or two.
Andrew Wiggins (Kansas) and Julius Randle (Kentucky) have done nothing to help or hurt their causes in the past week, but there are some prospects on the rise close behind them. Here are some brief notes on them.
Noah Vonleh, Indiana, freshman ‘ Vonleh has been working his way up draft boards all season, and he could end up in the top five when June arrives. He does not have eye-popping scoring totals, but Vonleh’s rebounding combined with his efficiency is gaining attention.
Vonleh is averaging 11.5 points and 9.6 rebounds on the season, but his rebounding has been on the rise of late. In his last four games Vonleh is shooting 15-for-26 from the field. With a percentage like that, Vonleh really should be looking for his shot more often. Once he does, he could become a double-double machine in the NBA.
Tyler Ennis, Syracuse, freshman – Ennis may not be the most talented in his freshman class, but he could be the most valuable to his team. He is wise beyond his years and really knows how to lead his team as a point guard (evident by the 24-0 start ‘Cuse is off to).
Ennis’ season averages are 11.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists, but this is a player who goes beyond the numbers. Obviously Rajon Rondo would have to be on the move if Ennis was to end up in Boston, so it’s unlikely we see him in green. Someone is going to get a good leader with a strong will to win, though; his game-winner at Pittsburgh on Wednesday was ridiculous.
Chris Walker, Florida, freshman – Walker was ineligible to begin the season, but he has been able to play in Florida’s last three games. As the third-ranked team in the nation, the Gators have no reason to push Walker into a big role right away.
At 6-foot-10, Walker is a freak athlete who is built more for the NBA than college basketball. In his 16 minutes of play this season, Walker has shot 4-of-5 from the field for eight points while collecting six rebounds and swatting away a pair of shots. If Walker enters the draft without getting a chance to showcase his talent by playing major minutes, an NBA team will end up with a serious steal.
With so many exciting prospects, as well as an ever-changing landscape in the NBA, mock drafts are really just guesses at this point. But using Thursday’s NBA standings, here’s a look at what the lottery could look like if the draft were held now.
1. Bucks: Joel Embiid – Despite being banged up, Embiid is still the front-runner for the top pick — too much potential to pass up.
2. 76ers: Jabari Parker – Really a toss up with Wiggins, but Philly has nice young pieces in place and Parker seems like the right guy to tie them all together.
3. Magic: Andrew Wiggins – This works well for the Magic who are rumored to have Wiggins atop their draft board. He would immediately become the cornerstone of the franchise.
4. Kings: Dante Exum (Australia) – Exum is the mystery man overseas, but people who have seen him play love him. He is a 6-foot-6 combo-guard the Kings have interest in. Although probably far-fetched, some scouts have mentioned Exum as a potential top overall pick.
5. Lakers: Julius Randle – Simple, the Lakers take the best player on the board, they will have no trouble building through free agency.
6. Celtics: Noah Vonleh – With no franchise center or dominant wing scorer left on the board, Boston probably takes the best player available. Smart could be that guy come June, but this is if the draft were today.
8. Cavaliers: Aaron Gordon (Arizona, freshman) – Gordon has drawn some realistic Blake Griffin comparisons. Great fit next to Kyrie Irving for a Cavs team erasing its current rebuild and starting over from scratch.
9. Nuggets (from Knicks): Marcus Smart – Smart is too talented to fall out of the top 10 no matter what. The Nuggets have size already, and even though they have Ty Lawson, I maintain that Smart can play off the ball.
10. Bobcats (from Pistons): Doug McDermott (Creighton, senior) – The ‘Cats have wasted plenty of picks on young talent that has not developed. McDermott puts up over 25 PPG and is a proven scorer, perfect fit in Charlotte.
11. 76ers (from Pelicans): Rodney Hood (Duke, sophomore) – Hood takes a backseat to Parker on many nights, but he is an inside-out forward who would go well with Philly’s young talent. Ironically, the Sixers end up with Parker and Hood in this mock.
12. Magic (from Nuggets): Tyler Ennis – With Jameer Nelson aging and potentially on his way out of town, Ennis is a perfect fit. Yet another connection: Ennis and Wiggins played AAU ball together and would now team up in the NBA.
13. Timberwolves: Dario Saric (Croatia) – Saric is considered a ‘point power forward’ but could probably play the three alongside Kevin Love or the four with Love in smaller lineups. Saric would make for a good fast break with Ricky Rubio.
Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow.