Ben McLemore and Marcus Smart could be the first two guards off the 2013 NBA draft board.
So far they've shined in their first years playing college ball, and have emerged as premier prospects at their respective positions.
When deciding who has the brighter future, let's first highlight each prospect's strengths, and then weigh them against the obstacles both players are bound to face on their career paths moving forward.
Ben McLemore has two strengths that will translate no matter what. I like to call it his "basement strengths," as in worst comes to worse, he'll have these to lean on.
If all else fails, McLemore will always have a pure, lethal three-point stroke. With textbook mechanics, dead-eye accuracy and a 6'5'' frame that elevates high off the ground, McLemore will be able to get off clean looks without discomfort and have the opportunity to convert them routinely.
He's also an elite athlete with ideal physical tools for an NBA off-guard. McLemore is a high flier and can finish above the rim, making him an effective slasher or weapon in transition.
His athleticism also plays a role on defense, where his physical tools project favorably. He's got the foot speed and length to defend all types of perimeter scorers and make defensive plays that result in points the other way.
Smart's best qualities are his instincts, mentality and motor. These are attributes that translate in almost anything.
His instincts allow him to make the right play at the right time. Knowing when to score and when to facilitate is half the battle with most combo guards.
Smart's mentality centers around his willingness to sacrifice personal scoring opportunities for creating open looks for teammates. He's got excellent vision and has a good feel for how to manipulate the defense.
Every move he makes he does with purpose, whether it's freeing up a shooter via the dribble handoff or triggering a defensive collapse by attacking open space.
His motor is self-explanatory. Smart goes hard on every possession on both sides of the basketball.
Defensively he's constantly active, looking to sniff out the next pass or harass a ball-handler. Offensively, he attacks the rim like he's mad at it.
His intensity and desire have both been major factors toward the success he's had as a leader. Smart has all the qualities and intangibles that make up an admirable floor general and one that teammates trust with the ball down the stretch.
While noting each player's strengths is important, it's their weaknesses that ultimately might determine whose future is brighter.
McLemore isn't the most adept shot-creator in the half court. Unless he's coming off a down screen for a catch-and-shoot jumper, or slashing towards the basket for a finish off one foot, McLemore struggles to create open looks for himself in the mid-range.
He also has a weak left hand, and it limits his ability to get to the rim from the perimeter.
The only fear with McLemore is that he won't factor into a game if his jumper isn't falling, but these are obstacles that can be easily cleared with time.
Smart may not have that luxury.
Smart isn't overly quick off the dribble, something combo guards typically rely on to break down the defense in the half court. He gets away with it at the college level because of his strength. Smart often bullies his defender inside, providing the contact as opposed to taking it.
At the next level, I'm not so sure he'll be able to get the easy buckets he's getting now.
Another obvious area of concern is his three-point range and overall perimeter stroke. He's only shooting 31.6 percent from downtown and 41.8 percent from the floor.
He's also used to playing with the ball in his hands for the majority of the game, which may not be the case once he gets to the next level. Many combo guards have failed the transition process because of their inability to adjust in an off-ball role.
Smart's weaknesses are a little more troubling, though not to the point where he should be downgraded as a prospect. He's got too many positive features to let the minor details move the needle.
McLemore and Smart offer desirable overall skill sets, ones that should help an NBA team get to that next level. Both players also have the upside to allow teams to consider them as a long-term answers in their respective roles.
But if we have to pick one, it has to be the guy who we know can score the ball in rain, wind or snow. McLemore has the chance to become a special NBA player.
You just don't see many athletes of McLemore's caliber who can shoot the way he can. Usually the most electric athletes are the worst shooters.
He's also improving his game off the dribble and showing the potential to separate from his defender with the step-back or pull-up jumper. This will really propel him as a scorer and make him a multidimensional threat with the ball in his hands.
McLemore has clearly recognized this and has been looking to create in the mid-range more frequently lately.
There's no doubt Smart will play a pivotal role for an NBA team, but his weaknesses might hold him back from reaching his ceiling.
Without a reliable perimeter game or the isolation quickness, Smart might end up playing a supporting role instead of a featured one.
McLemore has the opportunity to be one of the top shooting guards in the NBA once his game fully develops. Even if this is it and we're looking at a final product, he still has something to offer an NBA rotation.
My gut says that he hasn't scratched the surface yet. He's got too many NBA tools and loads of potential, and with the way he's rapidly progressing, there's no reason to think he should stop now.
Brighter Future: Ben McLemore
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