Wednesday, April 21, 2004

What J.R. Smith has to look forward to
Just a few months ago, high school All-American J.R. Smith was pretty sure he'd be a UNC Tarheel in the fall. After several awesome performances at all-star high school basketball games, now he's not so sure. In fact, if Smith is assured of being a lottery pick, consider him gone. The Charlotte Observer reported yesterday that:
Two NBA scouts who spoke to the Observer on Monday said it was no given that Smith would be among those first 14 picks on June 24.

One scout, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Smith would have been a second-round pick a month ago, but his performances in the prep all-star games now make him mid- to late first round.

"You've got to think about him" in the second half of the first round, the scout said. "He moves and jumps with such purpose."

A scout from another team said he could count 22 players who might go ahead of Smith in this draft.
This is good and bad. It's good if you're a UNC fan -- because it sounds like J.R. Smith won't be a lottery pick, and will probably end up in Chapel Hill. It's bad in that scouts have considered this guy a much better talent based on four all-star games than on 25 high school games. Anything can happen in four games. Remember Mark Lemke -- in seven games he hit .444 during the 1996 NLCS. He was a lifetime .246 hitter. My point is that it just seems silly to christen anyone the next anything based on four games.

Either way, here's what J.R. Smith can look forward to if he goes straight to the NBA. I took a look at all the players drafted out of high school since 1995 and how they performed their first three years in the league (the tradeoff then becomes a three year NBA education vs. three years of game experience in college). I looked at both results for all players and results for players 6'8" and under (J.R. Smith is 6'6") and here's what the numbers look like (one other thing -- I only looked at first round picks because Smith has made it known that he won't come out if he's not taken in the lottery):
Under 6'8"
yrs in nba mpg ppg rpg apg spg to
1 11.4 4.9 1.3 0.9 0.5 1.1
2 21.5 10.2 2.6 2.1 0.7 1.5
3 25.2 12.3 3.4 2.3 0.9 2.0
Total 19.4 9.1 2.4 1.8 0.7 1.5
All players
yrs in nba mpg ppg rpg apg spg to
1 15.0 5.5 3.2 0.8 0.4 1.0
2 20.3 8.2 4.3 1.4 0.6 1.4
3 26.7 10.9 5.6 1.9 0.8 1.8
Total 20.5 8.1 4.3 1.3 0.6 1.4

*Players include: Garnett, Bryant, McGrady, L. Smith, J. Bender, Stevenson, Miles, K. Brown, Harrington, E. Curry, T. Chandler and Diop
I should note that there aren't a lot of people to compare Smith to -- and hopefully that isn't lost on Smith -- so the results are only based on the performance of a few players.

Overall, first year players average 15 minutes per game and score 5.5 points per game. If you're under 6'8" you get roughly 11 minutes a game and average only 5 points a contest. By your second year however, you get almost 22 minutes a game, and average 10 points per game -- both of which are solid numbers. The thing is, I don't think any scouts would confuse J.R. Smith with Kobe Bryant or McGrady -- two guys who are perennial all-stars now, but also had to learn from the bench early in their careers. Smith can shoot, but he'll have to play a lot of 2-guard in the NBA and his ball-handling skills need a lot of work. If nothing else, he might be better served going to college for one year, work on his ball-handling and compete against some of the best college basketball players in the country. While sitting on the bench might in some regards be beneficial to a rookie, more times than not, actually being in the game makes players better -- especially when they're 18 and used to playing every game.