Duke's Draft Profile: Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler

Some of you may know me as one of the voices of Celtics Stuff Live, but in addition to my Celtics fandom, I’m a rabid Duke basketball fan. I recognize this often puts me on the side of scorn and ridicule as the street cred for the Blue Devils has been in the Yankees-Cowboys range of obnoxiousness for the last 20 years or so. Nevertheless, I’ve persevered to root for four national titles in that time, and have endlessly enjoyed watching one of the greatest coaches in college history, Mike Krzyzewski, at work. (and in case you are wondering, I DID type out "Krzyzewski" without having to look it up, so there’s my bonafides) Anyway, my good friend Jeff Clark suggested I share with you, the CelticsBlog reader my thoughts on a pair of Celtics draft prospects who I have watched intently over their four years playing for the Blue Devils. 

Nolan Smith, PG/SG

The late Derek Smith never made a deep impression on the Boston Celtics, playing only two games in the 1990-91 season, but his son might have an opportunity to do much more if he is selected by the Celtics with the 25th pick. Nolan Smith utilized the skills and work ethic he observed in hanging around his father as he bounced around the NBA as a player and assistant coach before his untimely demise in 1996 while working for the Washington Wizards.

Nolan attended Oak Hill Academy, the now infamous basketball school that featured Nolan’s teammate Michael Beasley, the Hawks’ Josh Smith, and fella name Rajon Rondo.  Though Nolan was named a McDonalds All-American, his arrival at Duke was overshadowed by that of fellow freshman Kyle Singler, but after an unassuming first season behind a talented backcourt, Smith earned his time as a sophomore. Duke’s highly touted point guard, Greg Paulus, struggled with injuries and maddening inconsistency, and finally Coach K was forced to look toward Nolan Smith to turn the ship around.  While Paulus and Smith shared point guard duties at times, Smith’s injection into the lineup energized the Blue Devils toward a 30 win campaign. However, it was Smith’s role as Duke’s go-to scorer and team leader in 2010 that served as the catalyst toward the Blue Devils’ fourth national championship.  Smith showed a knack for using his dribble penetration to get to the rim or open up shots for Duke’s lethal 3 point shooters. While Jon Scheyer served as the Blue Devil point guard for the 2010 season, it was Smith who often had the ball in his hands. In fact, it is this sort of usage and size that make the Delonte West comparisons so interesting.  Smith is not the shooter West is, but nor is West the dribbler/penetrator that Smith is.

Positives: Smith, like Kyle Singler, appears ready made to play a role at the NBA level , and contribute immediately. Playing for Mike Krzyzewski, Smith has been indoctrinated in the world of pressuring the ball handler and getting into the passing lanes, so fitting into the Celtic defense should be relatively easy. Also, Smith’s size and standing reach give him the ability to play behind or with Rondo as a shooting guard. Smith’s senior season PER of 25.6, is outstanding, and provides a glimpse at how efficient a piece the Celtics could add even in a reserve role.

Negatives: If the choice were between Smith vs. Delonte, the veteran might get the nod due to his shooting prowess. Nolan Smith needs to improve his stroke to keep NBA scouting reports from keying on his dribble drive, but thankfully his improved playmaking will help in keeping the ball moving within the offense. Smith’s point guard play was poor enough in his sophomore and junior seasons to necessitate giving that role to Jon Scheyer, but Duke never skipped a beat with Smith running the team instead of the sure-to-be #1 pick Kyrie Irving injured.

Bottom line: I’m fully of the belief that the Celtics need size, but I know two truths of Danny Ainge drafts: he’ll always draft talent before need and he’ll take a combo guard at some point.  While I’m on the fence about the prospects of Avery Bradley, those I talk to suggest he could have a much larger role next season, nevermind the future of free agent Delonte West.  Nolan Smith is the type of player who can excel in the pro game and in the right situation. If Danny Ainge were to make that call… I think we’d all walk away happy.

Kyle Singer, SF

Singler entered Duke has a highly touted prospect who many mock draft projections suggested as a top 10 talent following his freshman year. Singler unfairly carried the burden of being compared to Christian 

Laettner and Danny Ferry, but unlike other past Duke talents (see Josh McRoberts, Chris Burgess, Taymon Domzalski), Singler didn’t shrink under the weight of these expectations while wining ACC Rookie of the Year in 2008. One notable point about Singler’s tenure is the variety of roles Mike Krzyzewski threw his way. Due to a lack of size in his freshman year, Singler was asked to play around the basket much more than he was accustomed to in the prep ranks. As a sophomore, the Blue Devils added more size to their roster which allowed Singler to become much more of a perimeter player and his numbers responded with significant improvements in scoring, rebounding, assists, and 3 point percentage. While these numbers didn’t see similar jumps as a junior or senior, the talent around Singler also improved, diminishing his opportunities to get numbers. At Duke, the goal is winning and individual accolades pale in comparison with ACC and National Championships, something Singler was able to bring back to Cameron. By that mark alone, Singler’s career is deemed a success, so like the Celtics organization, Singler would be at home with living up to the legacy of a winning program.

Positives: Served as a dynamic role player for the Blue Devils, serving in a number of capacities. Given what NBA teams would need from him now, Singler is a solid pick at the small forward position.

Negatives: Singler was never an athletic dynamo and often struggled against athletic frontlines at Clemson and Carolina, and he won’t be getting any break in possibly having to defend guys like Lebron James. Singler needs to improve his shot as he lacks that one marketable skill most NBA role players need for success. 

Bottom Line: If Jeff Green were not in the picture, I’d be in favor of bringing Kyle Singler aboard. Singler is a solid citizen, someone accustomed to playing a role, and a diligent worker. However, I’m not sure Kyle Singler would classify as "value" for Danny Ainge at the 25th pick.

Between Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, I see Smith as a better fit for the Celtics’ needs and style of play, but both players could be solid role players in this draft. While Ainge drafts for talent over need, he does try to select players who can play within the Celtics system and I think Smith and Singler could fit here.  However, the need for size on the Celtics roster remains, and I truly hope Ainge selects a player who can play in the post and fill the growing needs in the front court. 

For those looking for more on the Draft and the Celtics moves this Summer, I hope you can tune in to Celtics Stuff Live Sunday nights at 9pm and make plans to be with us on Draft Night for our annual marathon show. Our Draft show is one of the highlights of our season, so I hope you can join Justin Poulin, myself, and a long cast of CSL regular guests who will come on and provide their perspective on the Celtics’ moves that evening.

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