According to 247 Sports, Nick Smith, Jr. is the top combo guard in the 2022 recruiting class and a projected lottery pick for the 2023 NBA Draft. He will be headlining what many think is an absolutely loaded Arkansas team, under head coach, Eric Musselman.
Standing at 6’4 or 6’5 with at least a +5 wingspan, Smith brings plus-size to the table for his position. Although he isn’t your typical, sexy run-and-jump athlete, his fluidity, dexterity, and lateral agility are all really good.
Turn on the tape, and the first thing that pops is his smooth off-the-dribble jumper. When defenses allow Smith to get to his spots, he has the ability to rise over defenders and knock down shots both from the mid-range and from three where he shows great touch and solid mechanics. Smith might also have one of the best floater games in the country. He is a true three-level scorer.
The former North Little Rock star has also shown a level of comfort handling the ball in pick-and-roll actions. Watch enough tape and you will see Nick Smith splitting defenders as well as rejecting and manipulating screens to his advantage. If defenders decide to go under the action, Smith has the ability to make them pay from range. If defenders decide to go over, Smith is a crafty enough ball-handler to get into and finish in the paint. His ability to drive left or right is the icing on the cake and is what makes him so difficult to guard in ball-screen actions.
The passing acumen shouldn’t be an issue, either. Sure, he’s not a Josh Giddey or Sharife Cooper, but he’s shown the ability to execute simpler drive and kick passes as well as find his shooters on the weakside when help comes on the drive. I’ve also noticed that he looks quite confident when passing with his weak hand, which I believe is an underrated and under-discussed aspect of a player’s game.
Defensively, Smith has the tools to be a positive defender both at the college level and in the NBA. He showed great energy as an on-ball defender at North Little Rock and has the capability of keeping up with quicker guards on the perimeter. He is able to rotate and switch seamlessly and does a great job of using his length when he’s off-ball to help on drives and cause turnovers and discourage drives. Right now, Smith is a little bit jumpy in terms of positioning at times and he also relaxes a little bit too much, but overall, this imperfection can be ironed out by a great college coaching staff, such as Arkansas.
The biggest question surrounding Nick Smith’s game right now is that of half-court self-creation. Some have the concern that he doesn’t get great separation from his defenders and his first step and burst aren’t ideal. I agree that he’s no Jalen Green or Anthony Edwards – guys who really benefit from having S-tier athleticism – but that doesn’t mean that he can’t be effective. There is a pathway for Smith to become more of a crafty creator that utilizes advanced dribble moves, head and shoulder fakes, and stellar footwork.
One thing is for sure, though. My eyes will be glued to Arkansas’ Men’s basketball team this year to see how Nick Smith, Jr’s game will develop in the college ranks.
2023 NBA Draft Projection: Mid-to-late Lottery Pick