Fresh off a national championship, of which he was an integral part of winning, Nolan Smith
didn't waste much time in recommitting to spending his senior year at Duke.
Smith has been on our radar screen since he was a high school junior playing alongside Brandon Jennings
at Oak Hill Academy back in 2006, and all he's done is slowly but steadily round out into one of the most complete guards in college basketball since.
From a physical standpoint, Smith isn't likely to blow anyone away with his athleticism or upside. Showing good size for the point guard spot, Smith is more smooth than he is explosive, relying on his smarts, timing and outstanding fundamentals to get the job done. He's unlikely to test out as anything more than an average athlete, but that certainly doesn't affect the way he plays, and there are certainly some advantages to the terrific pace he plays at.
Offensively, Smith is at his best in the half-court, where his smarts and unselfishness really shine through. Capable of driving left or right and making shots with his feet set or off the dribble, Smith takes what the defense gives him and does a terrific job of executing Duke's offense. He never forces the issue and therefore almost never turns the ball over, managing to cut down his turnover rate gradually every year, to the point that he now coughs it up on just 12% of his possessions.
He can create for his teammates effectively either on the pick and roll or just by trusting the offense and getting them the ball at the right time, never really blowing you away with anything he does, but always being steady, efficient and productive. Not what you would call a pure point guard, Smith nonetheless should have no problems running an NBA offense, as he's an excellent ball-handler, a willing passer and has an exceptionally high basketball IQ.
Where Smith might run into problems is when being asked to go out and create offense for himself on a regular basis. While he can get by players at the collegiate level thanks to his excellent timing and fundamentals, he's not exceptionally explosive and doesn't have a great mid-range game, not really looking all that comfortable creating separation sharply from his defender with his pull-up jumper.
He also is just an average finisher around the basket, often preferring to utilize his floater from 3-5 feet out rather than exploding at the rim, creating contact and finishing strong, a reason he doesn't get to the free throw line an outstanding rate. He converts just 46% of his 2-pointers in turn, which is a fairly pedestrian rate compared with some of his counterparts at the NCAA level.
As a shooter, Smith is effective as his 39% 3-point percentage would indicate, but he has room to improve here as well, particularly with his feet set. His shot remains a bit on the rigid side, as it's fairly quick but loses accuracy significantly when he's forced to rush, is coming off a screen or has a hand in his face, things that may become more of an issue at the NBA level. Increasing his range and improving his ability to shoot under duress are two things he might want to work on moving forward.
Defensively, Smith does not have great physical tools, but he more than makes up for that with the effort, smarts, toughness and fundamentals he brings to the table. He takes great pride in his work on this end of the floor, staying in front of his man effectively and using his length to contest opponents' shots on every possession.
Duke was one of the best defensive teams in all of college basketball, and the work Smith put in shutting down opposing point guards played a big part in that. NBA teams will wonder whether Smith has the size and length to defend shooting guards if called upon, which is something he may need to show during the workout process.
Smith is the type of player who probably won't get many General Managers overly excited on draft night, but ultimately is likely to go on and have a very productive NBA career. He doesn't have any major weaknesses and brings a terrific pedigree to the table, and should be able to step into an NBA rotation from day one and contribute to a playoff team. Other prospects will be deemed to have more upside, but no one will have won more games, and college players with this type of profile very often end up exceeding what's typically expected from their draft spot.