The 2017 NBA Draft is loaded with elite point guard talent. Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball lead the way, but behind them an interesting battle for the third lead guard is taking place. De'Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith Jr. both bring elite talent to the table, but are almost polar opposites on the floor.
Fox has been projected as high as two to the Lakers in some mock drafts, with a perceived floor of five to the Kings. Meanwhile, Smith has been projected as high as five to the Kings, with a floor of going at nine to the Mavericks.
While Fox is projected to go higher in the draft, it may not be warranted. Fox may have had a more successful college career at Kentucky, but Smith played in a much more difficult situation at North Carolina State.
We’ll take a look at how Fox and Smith compare as we close in on the 2017 NBA Draft.
Size and Measurements
This is where things get murky for a lot of top prospects who don’t show up for the NBA Combine. Smith didn’t and his last recorded measurement is from the summer of 2016 where he measured in with a 6’5” wingspan. Fox, who did go, has a 6’6 ½” wingspan, giving him a slight advantage in reach.
When it comes to height, Fox has another advantage, albeit a smaller one. He measures in at 6’3.25”, while Smith comes in slightly lower at 6’2” in shoes. The height difference isn’t enough to make a difference, as both are tall enough to see the floor. Their standing reaches are where a difference can be seen with Smith at 8’1" and Fox at 8’4".
The advantage for Smith comes in weight, where he comes in at 195 pounds to Fox’s 170 pounds. That may seem odd when comparing guards, but it allows Smith to get to the hoop and play with more aggression. Fox will be easier to bully if he gets caught switched onto a wing or stuck guarding a big guard, like Smith.
With that said, Fox’s height and length advantage gives him the edge, because he can always add more weight once he enters the NBA.
Advantage: De’Aaron Fox
Things get interesting here, because Fox and Smith are both phenomenal athletes, but they’re also completely different athletes.
Fox is as fast as they come, especially with the ball in his hands. He can move well laterally and guard almost any point guard put in front of him because of it. However, he doesn’t have elite vertical explosion, which would make getting to the rim much easier.
Smith on the other hand does have that vertical explosion. Before his knee injury he was one of the most explosive players in the country. He looked shaky at the start of the season, but at the season’s end he was beginning to look like his old self. He doesn’t have the lateral quickness, but he does have good straight line burst, allowing him to get to the hoop.
This decision ultimately comes down to preference. If a team wants a fast and quick point guard with great acceleration that can make defending easier, the choice is Fox. If a team wants an explosive leaper who can use his jumping ability and explosion to get to the rim, Smith is the choice.
I give the edge here to Smith. His explosion can’t be taught and getting to the rim is a key skill to have in the NBA. Having a built-in advantage to help him succeed at getting to the hoop breaks the tie here.
Fox isn’t highly touted as an offensive prospect, but he has plenty of ability on that end of the floor. He uses his speed to get to the hoop and is a good finisher around the rim. Fox also has good court vision, and the spacing at Kentucky allowed him to show it off on his drives to the hoop.
Fox is lacking, however, as a pure scorer. His jumper isn’t broken, but he struggles to shoot from deep. He shot 24.6 percent from range this year on almost two attempts per game. This is a major flaw in his game that needs to be corrected.
Dennis Smith, on the other hand, is one of the best pure scorers in this draft. He has the ability to score at all three levels of the floor and the strength to hold up in the NBA while doing it. Smith can shoot it from deep, knocking down 35.9 percent of his threes on 4.8 attempts per game. He also got to the hoop, even with an incredible lack of spacing in college.
Smith’s passing skills are a bit of a mystery because he was so ball-dominant at NC State. He had almost no help on the floor so he was forced to play hero-ball far too often. There is reason to believe he can be a good passer because he displayed some semblance of an ability to hit open shooters on his drives.
The advantage here is a fairly clear one. Smith is a way better and more polished offensive player than Fox, and his shooting ability is far better than Fox’s.
Smith is already at a disadvantage defensively because of his lack of length, so his lack of effort didn’t help his cause much. Smith was often disengaged at NC State, and it will be interesting to see if that lack of focus carries over to his professional career. He has the tools to be an above average defender, but it will be on him to get there.
Fox is the exact opposite defensively. His quick hands and feet allow him to guard most point guards and also be a threat to rack up steals. He can disrupt passing lanes when guarding off of the ball because of his hands and can cause chaos for opposing teams. He doesn’t have the ability to switch much, but his hands will make teams weary of targeting him for pick and rolls.
This one isn’t close. Fox is the better defender by a wide margin.
Fox has the potential to be a star in the NBA, but he needs to develop a jumper if he ever hopes to reach that potential. He could be one of the best defensive point guards in the league, but that has diminishing value in today’s NBA if you can’t switch on screens. It all comes down to the jumper for him, and if he fixes it, he could be one of the league’s best.
Smith has as much offensive potential as anyone in this class, and that includes Markelle Fultz. He can be a dominant force on the offensive end of the floor with his ability to score and his explosive athleticism. If he can reach that potential and become a fully focused defender, we could be looking at the steal of the draft.
This choice was the most difficult one. Ultimately it comes down to who I think can actually reach their potential. With Fox’s development being so reliant on his bad jumper, Smith becomes a much easier choice here.
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