After entertaining the idea of keeping his name in the draft last season, Tyler Smith returns to Knoxville looking to rehash his draft resume and solidify his stock. Emerging on the national radar after a productive season at Iowa as a true freshman, Smith is largely a known commodity at this point. His 17.4 points and 5.8 rebounds 3.4 assists per-game average last season only reinforced the perception of his ability to produce on the NCAA level. With the Volunteers returning essentially their entire core, Smith is in position to lead Bruce Pearl's squad to a great deal of success. However, hell need to show considerable improvement in a number of areas to make his resume more attractive from an NBA perspective.
Before we delve into the things that Smith needs to work on, lets first look at some of his assets as a player. Sporting a near 6-10 wingspan, Smith possesses very nice size for the three spot, which coupled with good overall athleticism and impressive lateral quickness, give him a great deal of defensive upside on the NBA level. In addition to benefiting from what Trevor Ariza and Mickael Pietrus accomplished in the playoffs last season, Smith is also an efficient offensive threat thanks to his assertiveness at the rim, ability to draw contact, and very solid work ethic. Highly versatile and developing as a perimeter scorer, Smith is much closer to being a legitimate small forward than he once was, but would benefit immensely from improvements in a few key areas.
Nearly doubling the number of jump shots he took per-game from his sophomore year to his junior year, Smiths desire to expand his scoring range was met with mixed results. His main issues as a shooter are the absence of timing and rhythm in his release, a consistent lack of elevation, a long shooting motion, and only adequate footwork. Coupling those issues with the way Smith approaches scoring from the perimeter and it isnt hard to see why he shot only 29.2% from three-point range while converting nearly 48% of his shots inside the arc. The best thing Smith could do for his stock this season would be to showcase improved perimeter footwork and shooting mechanics.
Though Smiths shooting doesnt look very good on paper, he doesnt display a terribly poor shot selection. In fact, he seldom takes contested jumpers from the outside. Unfortunately, more than half of Smiths jump shots, open or otherwise, come from beyond the arc according to Synergy Sports Technology. Additionally, less than 3% of his attempts come from outside of 17-feet but inside the three point line. Smith seems to be pressing, and actively trying to show his range at the expense of his efficiency and midrange game. Even if hes taking open looks, if he doesnt improve his perimeter stroke, it will be interesting to see how he responds to his limitations.
Shooting may be Smiths biggest weakness, but his comfort level on the perimeter leaves quite a bit to be desired in general. A capable passer, he shows nice court vision, but his lack of ball-handling ability hurts him at times, though his physical brand of slashing ranks him in the top-25 players in our database in terms of free throw attempts per-40. Struggling to change directions with the ball once he drives, Smiths ability to refine the way he attacks off the bounce will cut down on his turnovers and allow him to better utilize his passing ability, since he has little trouble getting into the teeth of the defense with his first step. On the next level, Smith will need to be a low-mistake player unless he can overhaul his shooting, making his ball-handling ability and decision-making another point of interest this season.
A bit older than his peers, Smiths biggest chore this season will be answering questions about his position at the next level. Functioning as a hybrid forward offensively, but lacking ideal tools to play as a four in the NBA, each game will be another chance for him to convince NBA decision-makers that he has legitimately become a three. Possessing the characteristics necessary to be a defensive specialist, he was considered a bubble first-rounder for periods of last years draft season. Considering his age, and the fact that he doesnt have the highest ceiling in terms of talent, Smith could find himself in a similar position if he shows promise in the right areas. If he appears more natural out on the perimeter and improves his catch and shoot ability, he will certainly be a player that a lot of teams show interest in come next summer. With all of his weaknesses revolving around one aspect of his game, Smith will need to show growth despite there being very little change around him, a tall order, but an interesting situation to watch if nothing else.