The Wizards hold the No. 46 pick in this year's draft. Here is the first of a few profiles on prospects that might still be available by then.
Player: Russ Smith.
Position: Point Guard/Combo Guard
Expected Draft Position: Early-mid second round
College career: Russ Smith tested the NBA waters after Louisville's championship run in 2013, and the returns were not pretty. He drew the "undersized two-guard" moniker that so many prospects want to avoid and he knew the only way of escaping it was to return to school. The Cardinals had just lost lead guard in Peyton Siva to the draft, and Smith was poised to bolster a relatively barren backcourt.
Smith turned in a fine senior season. He was named to the All-American team and one of the 10 finalists for the Naismith College Player of the Year award. The Cardinals continued their dominance on the defense end, finishing in the top-5 once again in defensive rating. Smith, despite his small frame, was at the crux of it all.
Louisville made it to the Sweet 16 and came within seconds of beating their nemesis Kentucky Wildcats. A miraculous go-ahead three from Aaron Harrison in the closing seconds and an ill-timed missed free throw from Wayne Blackshear proved to be too much for the Cardinals to overcome, and Smith's college career came to an end.
But he went above and beyond to erase some of the knocks on him. He shot nearly 47 percent from the field, up from 41 percent as a junior. His three-point shooting, while not totally reliable, became a real weapon for him this season, as he converted nearly 39 percent of his attempts. He may not have kept his turnovers down, but he managed to keep them steady while nearly doubling his assist totals.
And yet, the doubts are still creeping up about him. No matter what he does on the floor, he's still just 6'0" tall -- and even that might be generous -- and a rail-thin 165 pounds. He's a scorer at his core, and an often erratic one at that. It's going to take more than just a year of solid play to turn heads about him.
Offense: Few in this draft conjure up more fast break opportunities than Smith. He's a speed demon racing up the floor and he has a way of eluding defenders and dribbling through traffic.
But like John Wall coming out, it has a way of biting him. He hunts for those secondary break chances by pushing the ball off rebounds even when he doesn't have the advantage, and it's for that reason he gets caught in the teeth of the defense with no release valve.
He's a spark plug, so you have to take the good with the bad and hope his playing style translates to the next level. He may not have the all-world athleticism of a Nate Robinson, but he's extremely crafty and has a knack for adjusting in mid-air when defenders slide into position to contest.
But the question is whether he can compensate for his lack of size when he does get past that first layer of defense. He had very little issues getting his shot off, and some of those one-on-three fast breaks actually worked in his favor because college defenders didn't know better. The NBA is a different animal, though. They won't sit back and wait for him to get airborne before contesting.
He'll have to take the next step in reading defenses. I thought a lot of his assists came as a last-second resort as he got into the lane with nowhere to go, which backfired on him a lot of times. He doesn't force the defense to rotate and rarely makes the pass over the top when teams are overloading the strong side. He seemed content in just making the pass to his strong side rather than probing the defense to get a better look out of the possession.
Defense: If Russ Smith sticks in the league, this will be his calling card. He can defend the length of the court, has quick hands, and moves well laterally. He was a key cog in Rick Pitino's match-up press and zone defenses and generated a ton of steals by swiping the ball loose from big men as they receive the ball at the nail.
But sometimes, he gets caught over anticipating his man's movements. He'll jump out one way while defending the pick and roll, only to see the ball handler crossing back over the other way with plenty of daylight ahead. In a lot of ways, his defense is a lot like his offense. You love the fire he brings, but you understand the pitfalls as well. Maybe it's something you just have to live with.
Pro potential/Wizards fit: Smaller point guards who can defend the length of the floor and isn't a total non-entity on offense do have a place in the league. I liken Russ a lot to Norris Cole, who was just as prolific a scorer coming out of Cleveland State a few years ago.
And he fits in extremely well in D.C. Randy Wittman constantly harps on the defensive effort he needs out of his backup guards, which is primarily the reason why Garrett Temple has always found himself in the rotation. But Temple is a free agent now, Andre Miller is closing in on retirement and the Wizards desperately need an injection of youth on the bench. This would be a perfect time to bring in Smith and allow him to grow under Wall and Miller.