Nick Smith Jr. is a 6-foot-5 freshman guard from the University of Arkansas. He was the No. 1 overall high school recruit from the 2022 class, ultimately deciding to stay locally in Arkansas to play for the Razorbacks. He’s a high-risk, high-reward pick relative to other players slated to go around the lottery because he dealt with a knee injury at Arkansas and didn’t get a healthy season to showcase his talent fully.
Nick Smith Jr. 2023 NBA Draft Profile
Smith Jr. didn’t have an outstanding freshman season with Arkansas as many expected. But, he was sidelined for about two months of the college season with a knee injury, only ending up playing in 17 games.
After returning from injury, Smith Jr. seemed still somewhat affected by the injury and never really played to his full potential. He averaged 12.5 points, 1.7 assists, 1.6 rebounds, and 0.8 steals on 38/34/74 shooting splits. That’s solid as a freshman starter but different from what you’d expect from the No. 1 overall recruit.
Arkansas had an up-and-down season. They finished ninth in the SEC with a 22-14 record. However, they had some success in the NCAA tournament. Arkansas got into the tournament as the eighth seed but made it to the Sweet Sixteen after defeating Kansas, the number one seed in their region.
Smith Jr. has good length for a guard at 6-foot-5, which will translate well to the NBA. He’s athletic, with a quick first step that can help him create space and get by his defender. In addition, Smith Jr. is a good enough ball handler to be a combo guard who can play on or off the ball.
The primary skill set that made Smith Jr. the No. 1 overall recruit is his scoring and shot creation. He has an array of moves to get off a shot or get to the rim. His length allows him to elevate over the defender, finish in the paint, or get fouled. He has plenty of potential and will benefit from the spacing and pace of play in the NBA. He’s capable of being a good scorer at the next level and catalyzing a team’s offense when he comes in.
One knock on Smith Jr.’s freshman year at Arkansas was his inefficiency. It’s hard to gauge what was the result of his injury. However, 38/34/74 shooting splits are not ideal for a shooting guard, especially considering his primary trait is scoring. He needs to be more efficient at the NBA level to play a role as a scorer.
In addition, Smith Jr. needs to improve his playmaking. He had close to a one-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio at Arkansas, averaging 1.7 assists and 1.6 turnovers. Smith Jr. can be a combo guard with his ballhandling ability but will need to improve his playmaking and get more teammates involved.
He was too one-dimensional as someone primarily a scorer and will need to find ways to impact the game besides scoring to get significant minutes in the NBA. Or, if he does specialize as a scorer, he’ll have to improve his efficiency drastically.
NBA Player Comparison
Malik Monk. Monk was the 11th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft out of Kentucky, also around where Smith Jr. is projected to be selected. Smith Jr. is a bit taller than Monk, who is 6-foot-3. However, their roles project to be similar in the NBA.
Monk had a solid season with Sacramento, averaging 13.5 points, 3.9 assists, and 2.6 rebounds on 45/36/89 shooting splits. Monk has found his niche with the Kings as someone that primarily contributes on offense with his ability to stretch the floor and get to the rim. The Kings love to run in transition, and Monk is an excellent fit for that style of play with his athleticism and skill set. Smith Jr. could also benefit from a team like the Kings that emphasizes pace and getting shooters open.