On-the-Clock Mock: Tyler Ennis or Marcus Smart

Jamie Squire

With Jeff Teague coming off his best season and Dennis Schröder developing in his shadow, point guard will not be a priority for Atlanta in the upcoming draft. What should Atlanta do if a point guard is the best player available?

The Atlanta Hawks are not likely to take a point guard in the first round. Currently, the two best point guards in the draft are Syracuse's Tyler Ennis and Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart. Australia's Dante Exum may end up as a point guard, but he could end up at either guard position. Even with the Hawks set at point guard in the near and projected future, what should Atlanta do if Ennis or Smart drop to being available at #15?

Assuming all other players on the Peachtree Hoops Draft Board ranked ahead of Ennis and Smart are gone, Atlanta would be foolish to pass up on either talent. Jeff Teague has shown enough to the team and himself that drafting either player should not be seen as an effort to replace him. Ennis and Smart both project to contribute in different ways early in their careers and both show the potential to be capable floor leaders. They are both better prospects than Dennis Schroder was last year and more prepared to play in an NBA rotation. Selecting either point guard would not necessarily be an admission that Schroder was a poor choice. Smart would have likely been a top-3 pick in last year's draft and Ennis certainly would have been in the top 10. If a player is a better prospect than anyone on the board, a healthy organization chooses them and works out the details later.

Even if both point guards are off the board, they remain an interest to Atlanta as we are likely to be facing them as opponents soon. No one tell Orlando that taking one of these in the lottery and signing away Shelvin Mack would be a perfect fit for their roster while also damaging a division rival. If the Hawks are on the clock with the 15th selection in the draft and K.J. McDaniels, James Young, and Gary Harris are no longer available, who do you choose if both top-10 point guards are still available?

Marcus Smart - 6'4, 200 220+, SO, Oklahoma State

Entering his sophomore season, Marcus Smart had two major issues hampering his draft profile: 1) no clear NBA position and 2) a poor jump shooter. In his role as primary ball-handler and facilitator this season, Smart convinced me that he can be an NBA point guard. However, the concerns about his jumper were reinforced. A consensus top-5 choice for much of the season, his prospective NBA Draft ship was beginning to take on water due to a leaky jumper before his infamous incident of shoving a fan against Baylor.

There are plenty of understandable reasons for how Smart reacted at Baylor, but even those answers come from questions that were never part of Smart's profile prior to the incident. Too much has been made of the incident with regard to his NBA Draft status. If he was making shots, his stock would have never wavered. Looking back on the whole picture of Smart's career, I would prefer a player with a fire to be cooled than trying to get one started. In Smart's 33 minutes a game over 2 seasons, he showed the competitive character AAU coaches raved about prior to his arrival in Stillwater.

Marcus does not possess elite speed or agility, but creates excitement in blending elite effort with a 6'8 wingspan, a sculpted frame, on-floor intelligence, and court vision. He has elite hands that he uses well both with and without the basketball. Marcus averaged 3.0 steals per game for his career and finished in the top 3 of all NCAA players in both seasons. His 2.7 turnovers per game are not something to be highlighted, but more than acceptable for a player learning to play point guard. Smart averaged 18 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists this season and is a triple-double threat on any night. His rebound and pass against UC-Davis last season is a nutshell look at his capabilities (and appropriately begins with him missing an outside shot):

Look how far Smart goes to pull down the rebound while also processing the space available on the floor. This is the type of play you expect to see from Lance Stephenson--a player who is comparable to Smart in many ways. Smart and Stephenson would kick, shove, bite, or scratch in order to not only win games, but win every possession. They are the type of players you want to see play as long as it is not for or against your team. Stephenson's regular complaints to officials pales in comparison to Smart's flopping obsession on the annoyance meter. Smart is not as agile as other high-motor guards like Stephenson which shows up on occasion on the defensive end. Several good college players who are not NBA prospects were able to beat Marcus on the first step. His aggressiveness gets him in trouble against quicker players (something that is absent in his defensive highlight reels). While he has really good feet compared to most players it only makes makes him average against a typical starting NBA point guard. His shot is clearly inferior to what Stephenson is capable of doing, but Smart brings a strong reputation as a teammate and a leader. Like Stephenson, Marcus attacks the rim against players of all sizes and found himself at the line 8.1 times per game.

Unfortunately, his aggression also causes him to get in foul trouble. While he is not a great shot blocker, he is a willing one. He was commonly used in the back of a 1-3-1 zone where his physicality allowed him to contend with better players. Marcus has no fear of being posterized--a trait which further supports his unselfish competitiveness. His best game of the season came against Memphis. In these highlights, you will see all of his strengths demonstrated and his enormous potential when he is able to make shots. The play at the 2:30 mark is one that he makes nearly every game, but too often goes underappreciated.

Many prospects would love to have this highlight reel for a season--much less one game. Tread carefully in the enthusiasm as there is a key line offered in the commentary at the opening: "He feels his shot has been improved." It would be better if his shot ACTUALLY had improved. In 2012-13, Marcus put up a 41/29/78 (FG/3PT/FT) shooting slash. After an off-season of work he returned to post a 42/30/73. On a positive, those numbers alleviate the "combo guard" label because there is no way he projects to be capable of playing off the ball. Smart has some obvious flaws in his shot that can be improved. You can see on film that when he maintains a balanced verticality and his feet return to the spot they left the floor, he makes a better percentage. However, as games go along he begins to flick both feet forward and his shot flattens out. Late in the season, he did showed better balance on his shot but it did not always pay off in games. There is a lot of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist present in his work ethic and shot-making that scares me. When hard-working players are not able to demonstrate improvement, you have to question their potential development.

Marcus plays on emotion and instincts. He has both a great understanding of what is occurring on the basketball court and an ability to process the court at a speed that cannot be coached. Even with a shaky jumper, Smart can make an impact in the NBA if a team can help him extend his on-court intelligence to include knowing how to best use his competitive aggression.

Tyler Ennis - PG (6'2, 180), FR, Syracuse

...On the eighth day, God made a point guard and named him Tyler. The Most Interesting Man in the World does not always watch basketball, but when he does he makes sure Tyler Ennis is playing. Tyler Ennis once turned the ball over under pressure and Chuck Norris made the ball apologize. The other side of the pillow is never cool to Tyler Ennis. Feeding the 5000 is not a miracle to Tyler Ennis, but simply a good start...

Tyler Ennis is the best pure freshman point guard I have ever seen. It was impossible to watch him play for much of this season and believe he was a freshman. Even as a player who is a year older than some true freshman prospects, Ennis plays with a maturity that many point guards do not develop until their thirties--if at all. Ennis led the ACC in assists (5.5) and steals (2.1) while caring for the basketball in an unprecedented manner (only 1.9 turnover per 40 minutes). He did not commit a turnover in the last 4 minutes of his first 20 college basketball games--something I struggled to believe even as I watched him come through over and over again. In one of the best regular season games I have ever seen, Ennis carried the load when it most mattered against Duke. This is just one of many games where he kept his teammates fed throughout the dinner portion of the game and then took care of the dessert on his own.

Some people do not believe in players being clutch. It is one of my biggest frustrations with reducing every aspect of the game to analytics because there is no real measurement for a player's thermostat. The last 2 minutes are not a random event. Some players shrink and others grow. When a game gets close and the pressure rises, Ennis is at his best. He has an ability to tuck all the scared children into bed, assures them that there are no monsters in the closet and then he conducts a symphony on how to put away an opponent: defend without fouling, only let an opponent get one shot, take care of the basketball, pressure the defense in the lane, make free throws. On a good night, he comes out for an encore:

If I was a Syracuse fan, I might have been committed after that shot. Like Shooter, I would not have even minded the straight jacket so much. There should be less concern about Tyler Ennis' mental toughness than almost any player I have ever watched play college basketball. I believe he will be able to command a team and a court the first second he sets foot on an NBA floor.

The question for him is how his physical abilities measure up. Ennis measures 6'2 in shoes with a 6'5 wingspan. Watching him play, he looks a little longer than those numbers but still does not have great length. He has outstanding hands on defense, but average feet. He looks to be less agile than most NBA point guards without the length to make up the difference. His instincts and balance will have to get him through on the defensive end--underrated skills that other players have used to become capable defenders. Unfortunately, it is difficult to know very much of his one-on-one defensive skills due to Syracuse playing zone defense. Tyler should not be a liability on defense, but there are legitimate question about him being an asset.

Overall, Tyler is a very good, not quite great athlete. His shot is not a liability by any stretch, but with his physical limitations it certainly needs to be improved. He posted a 41.1/35.3/76.5 slash which is good given his level of experience, but he will have to improve finishing plays in the lane and making open threes to maximize his gifts as a facilitator. Should his ability to knock down those shots improve, he could become a terror in pick-and-roll action.

Ennis played 36 minutes per game--a testimony both to his maturity and Syracuse's lack of depth. The Orangemen lacked shooters to space the floor or a true post threat. He is not the type of player that can carry at team for 36 minutes, but he certainly makes everyone around him better while being a killer when it really counts. There are no guarantees that his physical skill will not be exposed in the NBA. Drafted into the right situation, Tyler Ennis could be a sleeper to follow his predecessor Michael Carter-Williams as Rookie of the Year.

The Pick

Marcus Smart is the gas pedal. Tyler Ennis is the clutch. Smart plays absolutely wide open and will win a team over with his unceasing will. Ennis will keep a team in cruise control until there is a need to shift into a higher gear at the end. If a team is looking for a player to build a team around, than Smart is likely the best choice. He will bring instant energy, an infectious personality and a willful identity for others to follow. He also may infuriate every veteran on the team. Most NBA teams, including Atlanta, have at least one player of notable talent to develop a team around or a collection of athletes in need of some leadership. My pick between these two point guards if Atlanta is On The Clock: Tyler Ennis...but I am going to hate going seeing Marcus Smart on the floor in an opponent's jersey, just not as much as watching him shoot bricks on one end and flop on the other.

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