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2014 NBA Rookie Projection: Marcus Smart

This is part six in a series of articles evaluating the fantasy value of players in the 2014 NBA Draft. Each article in this series will focus on a different rookie. In this article, I'll take a look at the sixth overall pick, Marcus Smart. Here are links to parts 1-5 of the series:

Part 1: Andrew Wiggins (and Introduction)

Part 2: Jabari Parker

Part 3: Joel Embiid

Part 4: Aaron Gordon

Part 5: Dante Exum

The idea behind this series is that rookies have the potential to be valuable fantasy options but also the potential to disappoint. To understand the range of potential fantasy values that these players represent, I've developed a reasonable best, average, and worst-case scenario for each rookie based on comparable players' rookie-season stats. These comparable players either had similar college careers (as identified by, or are generally given in the media as comparisons for each rookie (e.g. Aaron Gordon is often compared to Shawn Marion).

If you think Gordon is the next Shawn Marion, you can use this series to help you know what that comparison means in terms of fantasy stats, as well as how to value those stats in a standard 10-team rotisserie league. Then, when fantasy draft day rolls around, you will know exactly how you want to value these players based on your opinion of who they will be similar to in the pros.

Marcus Smart - Boston Celtics (6th Pick)

Player Comparisons Considered:(Draft Year & Pick, Similarity Score)

James Harden (2009 - 3, 880), Tyreke Evans (2009 - 4, 892), Dwyane Wade (2003 - 5, 871), O.J. Mayo (2008 - 3, 811), Rodney Stuckey (2007 - 15, 831), Iman Shumpert (2011 - 17, 903), Dion Waiters (2012 - 4, 838), Evan Turner (2010 - 2, 816), Alec Burks (2011 - 12, 830), Jerryd Bayless (2008 - 11, 820), Austin Rivers (2012 - 10, 824)

Marcus Smart could have entered the 2013 NBA Draft after his freshman season and would have likely been a top-2 pick in that draft. He instead decided to return to school for his sophomore season, and in a more loaded 2014 draft, was picked sixth by the Celtics.

Smart is a physical, athletic playmaker who also excels on the defensive end. In fact, the most impressive highlight video that I've seen of Smart was actually a Dante Exum highlight video.

The highlight video was from the Australia-USA matchup in the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championships. From the 1:13 mark to the 2:55 mark, Exum did pretty much what he wanted to against Team USA's defense. At the 2:55, mark Marcus Smart takes over the defensive assignment of guarding Exum. All of the remaining possessions where Smart was the primary defender on Exum ended with Exum being taken out of the play completely or Exum turning the ball over.

Another feather in Smart's cap is that he ranked No. 1 in Kevin Pelton's wins above replacement projection for the 2014 rookie class. While this is a great indicator that Smart will have a successful rookie season, Pelton's projection factors in defensive performance, which makes it unclear whether or not Smart's real-life projection will translate into fantasy value. To evaluate his potential fantasy value, let's first take a look at his prospects for playing time and the Celtics' pace of play.

Minutes Per Game

To get an idea of Smart's potential level of playing time in his first season, let's take a look at the average minutes played by point guards drafted in the top 10 over the past five years (2009-13 NBA Drafts):

PlayerDraft PickAgeTeamGMPG
Damian Lillard2012 - 622POR8238.6
John Wall2010 - 120WAS6937.8
Stephen Curry2009 - 721GSW8036.2
Ricky Rubio2009 - 521MIN4134.2
Brandon Jennings2009 - 1020MIL8232.6
Trey Burke2013 - 921UTA7032.3
Brandon Knight2011 - 820DET6632.3
Victor Oladipo2013 - 221ORL8031.1
Kyrie Irving2011 - 119CLE5130.5
Jonny Flynn2009 - 620MIN8128.9
Kemba Walker2011 - 921CHA6627.2
Jimmer Fredette2011 - 1022SAC6118.6

The historical evidence suggests that Smart is likely to get big minutes as a rookie, but he doesn't exactly have a clear path to playing time on the Celtics. Smart is currently the third guard in the Celtics' rotation, behind All-Star Rajon Rondo and fifth-year vet Avery Bradley, who just signed a lucrative deal this offseason.

Smart's situation is comparable to Victor Oladipo's rookie season with the Orlando Magic. Oladipo was slotted in as the third guard, behind Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo. His playing time ebbed and flowed as a reserve, and his lack of playing time at the beginning of the season was a real issue for fantasy owners. Check out Oladipo's playing time by month from last season:

Oladipo by MonthMPG

While Oladipo struggled to get enough minutes to stay fantasy relevant early in the season, by December, his playing time had increased to an acceptable fantasy level.

Smart's playing time next season may also be inconsistent at times, which will be frustrating for fantasy owners. However, due to the potential of two-point-guard lineups, injuries, and possible roster moves, Smart should play an acceptable amount of minutes to be fantasy relevant. I expect him to get somewhere between 28-32 mpg next season, and I've projected him to get the same 31 mpg as a rookie that Oladipo got last season.

Team Pace

Last season, the Celtics averaged 93.3 possessions per game, just shy of the league average of 93.9 (per basketball-reference).

Best-Case Scenario: Tyreke Evans (Draft: 2009; No. 4, Similarity Score: 892)

Tyreke Evans' career trajectory has a downward arrow on it, so it's easy to forget how good he was as a rookie with the Sacramento Kings. Evans won the rookie of the year award and became only the fourth rookie in NBA history to average at least 20 points, five assists, and five rebounds per game. Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and Oscar Robertson were the other three.

Evans and Smart are similar in size, build, and athleticism. Their statistical production in college was also very similar. According to Hickory High Similarity Scores, Evans was the second most similar player to Smart in their database. Check out how Smart and Evans' stats in college compared on a per-possession basis (courtesy of

Tyreke Evans29.018.245%7.071%
Marcus Smart32.714.242%9.273%

Aside from a few minor overs and unders (Smart made more three-pointers, and Evans blocked more shots), these two produced stats at a very similar rate in college.

Let's see what Evan's statistically impressive rookie season would look like if it were adjusted to the Celtics' pace of play and an average of 31 minutes per game.

Tyreke Evans31.013.446%5.475%$775

As a rookie, Evans played over 37 mpg for a team that finished the season ranked as the seventh fastest team in the league, which explains why this projection is not as impressive as Evan's actual rookie season. Still, this stat line would have ranked as the 75th best last season in rotisserie leagues due to the strong production in points (16.7 ppg), assists (4.8 apg), and steals (1.3 spg).

Average-Case Scenario: Iman Shumpert (Draft: 2011; No. 17, Similarity Score: 903)

According to Hickory High, Smart's most similar statistical comparison was Iman Shumpert. Like Evans, Shumpert was primarily a point guard in college but has transitioned to playing as a wing in the pros, which may give us an indication about where Smart will be in a few years.

Let's take a look at the per-possession college stats of these two players to see how similar they were (courtesy of

Iman Shumpert32.116.441%6.881%
Marcus Smart32.714.242%9.273%

Smart dished out assists at a higher rate (5.5 apg vs. 4.2 apg) and blocked shots at a higher rate (0.7 bpg vs. 0.2 bpg) than Shumpert, but otherwise, these two players put up nearly identical stat lines during college.

Shumpert's NBA rookie season stats (courtesy of, adjusted for the Celtics' pace of play, and an average of 31 minutes per game, produces the following projection for Smart:

Iman Shumpert31.09.740%2.080%$1115

This projection would have ranked 115th last season, 40 spots worse than the projection based off of Tyreke Evans. While this projection is stronger in the steals category (1.9 spg vs. 1.3 spg), it ranks lower than Evan's projection mainly because of the lower level of scoring (10.2 ppg vs. 16.7 ppg) and field goal percentage (40% vs. 46%).

Worst-Case Scenario: Dion Waiters (Draft: 2012; No. 4, Similarity Score: 838)

Waiters has played only two NBA seasons, so to some extent, the jury is still out on the guard, but his first two seasons can hardly be considered a success. He has been unable to establish himself as a starter for the Cavs, and his off the court issues have lead to him being involved in trade rumors.

However, in college Waiters was an explosive scorer with a strong physical frame which allowed him to make plays in traffic.  These skills convinced the Cavs to draft him over players like Damian Lillard and Andre Drummond. The Celtics see a similar skill set with Smart. Here is a table that shows a comparison of the per-possession college stats of the two guards (courtesy of

Dion Waiters24.116.248%5.473%
Marcus Smart32.714.242%9.273%

Waiters was a more efficient scorer in college than Smart (48% vs. 42%), while Smart produced at a higher rate in the rebounding (6.7 rpg vs. 3.9 rpg) and assists (5.5 apg vs. 4.2 apg) categories. The two players were very similar in three-point shooting (1.8 3PM for Smart vs. 1.9 for Waiters), scoring (20.5 ppg vs. 21.2 ppg), and steals (3.3 spg vs. 3.0 spg).

Waiters' rookie season (courtesy of, adjusted for the Celtics' pace of play, and an average of 31 minutes per game, gives the following projection for Smart:

Dion Waiters31.014.541%3.875%$0136

The scoring rate for this projection (16.0 ppg, 41% FG) is much closer to Evans' projection (16.7 ppg, 46% FG), than Shumpert's (10.2 ppg, 40% FG), although the field goals percentage is closer to Shumpert's lower percentage. Waiters' high steal rate from college also didn't translate to the pros as well as Shumpert's did (1.0 spg vs. 1.9 spg). As a result, this projection ranks just outside the fantasy top 130. Since there are only 130 roster spots in a 10-team fantasy league, this would mean that you don't want to own Smart next season if you think his rookie season will be similar to Watier's rookie year.

My Projection

To develop my own projection for Smart, I've used a statistical technique that basically evaluates where he ranked in college among his peers in a single category and then projects him to rank similarly in that category in the NBA. For example, if we look at scoring, Smart ranked near the bottom of the group I compared him with. Therefore, my projection will have him ranked near the bottom of that same group in NBA scoring on a per-possession basis. Completing this calculation for all of Smart's fantasy categories produces the following projection, which again has been adjusted for the Celtics' pace of play and an average of 31 minutes per game.

Marcus Smart31.011.340%4.674%$1119

This projection would have ranked ranked 119th in standard rotisserie leagues last season. Smart projects to produce most of his fantasy value in the steals (1.4 spg) and assists (3.9 apg) categories.

My Recommendation for Draft Day

My projection for Smart has him ranked just inside of the top 130. However, I believe that, because of his upside, he has more fantasy value than a player who also ranks inside the top 130 but is a known commodity (for example: Carlos Boozer). I would recommend drafting Smart in the 10th or, ideally, 11th round of fantasy drafts, particularly if you need assists. This will give you the option to put him on your bench if his inconsistent playing time renders him unusable for a short time but also provides you with value he offers when he plays bigger minutes.

If you have thoughts about these projections that you'd like to discuss, or if you'd like me to calculate an alternative scenario, or a ranking for a different type of league, please leave a comment below or contact me on Twitter.