Russ Smith, the shooting guard that had a fantastic NCAA tournament to lead Louisville to the NCAA title on Monday night, now is headed to the NBA Draft his father tells Sports Illustrated after the game.
“When you go out, you want to go out with a national championship,” Smith Sr. said. “He’s got five rings: back-to-back Big East, back-to-back Final Four, national championship. What other way to go out?”
So that’s it? “That’s it.”
He’s gone? “He’s gone.”
While the word is from his father and not Smith himself, the 21-year-old was expected to come out, so this is more confirmation than anything else.
Smith is considered a bubble first round pick for the NBA, and while he was key for the Cardinals in their run to a title he fits less smoothly into the NBA — basically, 6’0” shooting guards don’t exist in the NBA. He’d be a tough-minded, score-first point guard and he showed in the tournament how he could do that scoring off the bounce. But scoring point guards who hit 33.3 percent of their threes (Smith’s season average this year) are going to find teams playing back and taking away those driving lanes.
But Smith has a few things going for him. One, he’s a good perimeter defender — although that reputation took a bit of a hit in the NCAA title game as Trey Burke (an NBA lottery pick) blew by him all through the second half. Smith also is a potentially great change of pace guard in that he loves to push the ball up and push the tempo. On the right team where he has the freedom to do that he could be part of a quality second unit.
I fear comparisons to current players, but if you’re looking for one he could be a Nick Young type (a name ESPN’s Chad Ford used the other day). But he’s going to need a better shot from the outside to get anywhere near that potential.