While the hype around Marcus Smart's surprise return to Stillwater for his sophomore year never disappeared, it was certainly overshadowed at the start of the season by the attention given to this year's talented crop of freshmen. In Big 12 country in particular, a lot of the focus shifted away from Smart's return when Andrew Wiggins announced his commitment to Kansas, and if his public comments about Wiggins are any indication, he seemed to take it personally.
Now, four games into his season, Smart is letting his game do some talking as well. This week, while Wiggins turned in a quiet-but-strong performance against Iona (13 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals), Smart got his turn to play in a nationally televised game, and took full advantage of the opportunity. In OSU's high profile 101-80 victory over 11th ranked Memphis, Smart went off for 39 points, hitting 12 of 16 free throws and five of his ten three pointers. The rest of his line followed suit (4 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 steals, 2 blocks). Memphis isn't Duke, and KU's game last week got a lot more run, being part of the Champions Classic, but Smart's game overshadowed what we saw not only out of Wiggins last Tuesday, but fellow freshman starts Jabari Parker and Julius Randle as well.
So, how do the two compare at this point? Wiggins and Smart would have to be considered the frontrunners for conference player of the year at this point, and while it's hard to draw conclusions so early in the season, Smart is making an incredibly strong statement right now. Still, Wiggins has put together three strong (if quiet) performances of his own this year, and is still just a freshman getting a feel for the college game. Let's take a look at the early numbers
Smart has put up some gaudy numbers, like scoring 30.5 points per 40 minutes and 4.25 steals per game (8.32% steal %, good for 4th in the country), but we can see that his issues from last year still exist. His 3 point shooting has improved to 38%, but going into Tuesday's hot-shooting performance, he was only 5-16 from beyond the arc, which is much more in line with last year's numbers. His assist to turnover ratio (which has been criticized as being low for a high-profile point guard), is identical to last year's so far. As a result he's actually been a less efficient offensive player than Wiggins, shown by their respective offensive ratings.
As with anything we talk about right now, we must put the old "sample size" qualifier on all of this. These numbers factor in three games against weaklings and one big game against a possibly overrated Memphis team for Smart, and two cupcakes and just three games total for Wiggins. If I had to guess, I think we'll see Smart's numbers end up similar to last year's with slight improvement. For Wiggins? It's almost impossible to say definitively, but my predictions is that he'll continue to score efficiently, and log respectable numbers elsewhere in the stat line. Unlike Smart, he has too much talent around him to take over a third of his team's shots (Smart took 21 of OSU's 61 on Tuesday), and Smart is likely to outscore him as a result.
We'll talk more about the draft as the season goes on, but I wouldn't change a draft board (if you're into that sort of thing) just yet. Remember, the NBA cares a lot less about what you did in your most recent season of college basketball than what they guess you could be in two or three years. At 6'4, Smart isn't going to be posting up undersized opponents at the next level, and no NBA coach is going to be on board with him hoisting 10 threes with his limited shooting ability. Even if Wiggins hasn't been filling up the highlight reels, he's still 6'8 with an astonishing level of athleticism.
As always, we'll continue to monitor this as the year goes on. By the end of the year, we'll have seen these two go up against each other at least twice, which will tell us far more than early stat comparisons ever could. Where do you stand in the Wiggins vs Smart discussion today?