Dru Smith has been a darling in certain scouting circles since his wonderfully dominant 2017-18 Evansville season caught the notice of every statistics-savvy scout. That Evansville season leaped off the page in several ways: his preposterous 49.1% from deep, a great 86.2% free throw mark, and an absurd 62.4% success rate on all two pointers and one of the best steal rates in the nation. Such scoring efficiency and signs of defensive playmaking will always draw some eyeballs, but there will always be skepticism of the true talent level of those players outside of the high major conferences, even if those players are making plays like this:
Thus, the transfer to Missouri to play his upperclassman seasons came with anticipation and Dru has more than demonstrated his ability against the highest competition as a Tiger. Dru has held steady as Missouri’s best and most reliable defender since he has arrived in the SEC, and he served as the versatile key to the Tigers’ multiple-guard, multiple-Smith strategy. After being overlooked multiple times in his basketball life but still rising to the occasion, without a doubt, Dru Smith is in line for an accomplished pro career.
The biggest draw for pro teams for Dru Smith at their disposals will be his pressuring perimeter defense. More bluntly, Dru’s hands have the strength of Superman and the quickness of the Flash and the accuracy of Green Arrow, and this is all showcased when he decides to rip the dribbles of opposing ballhandlers:
Dru’s highlights resemble Robert Covington and Kawhi Leonard’s best defensive plays where the ballhandlers need to spend more time worrying about keeping the ball secure than they can spend actually running a functional offense. Besides the steel trap hands, the 6’3” guard does remarkably well to body up and play physical with ballhandlers. Scorers several inches taller and dozens of pounds heavier can be veered away from their intended goals just through Dru’s activity, physicality, and strength:
That physicality allows Missouri to feel comfortable playing many guards like Xavier Pinson, Mark Smith, and Javon Pickett alongside Dru. Despite the usual belief that the best defenses generally rely on extra size, the 2020-21 Missouri Tigers have been a top 20 level defense in the nation, thanks to Dru’s versatility allowing Missouri to play “bigger” while having more perimeter talent to boost the offense. 3+ guard lineups have become a popular trend at the professional level with Rick Carlisle and the Dallas Mavericks being the most famous flag-bearers of the idea. That means Dru Smith not only offers a rare skillset for a guard but also one that should be a hot commodity at higher levels. If the upside of including more ballhandling and shooting on the court does not come with the downside of the lineup getting bullied on the defensive end, the lineup quickly can become dominant.
There will be plays where Dru struggles to defend pure speed and quickness from the more explosive and shiftier guards of the country:
However, Dru often can minimize even those quickness issues with his motor, recovery skills, and, again, those bearclaws for hands he has. He is also a fairly attentive off-ball defender who is skilled at keeping track of his assignments, maintaining proper positioning, and rotating. With those strengths, there is a clear path to Dru making an impact on elite defensive lineups at the next level.
The physicality with which Dru plays with on defense also translates to Dru on the offensive end as the sturdy guard feels right at home seeking and absorbing contact on drives to the rim:
His lack of outstanding quickness and functional but not elusive dribbling bag holds back Dru Smith from being a top notch slasher in the halfcourt but having the ability and willingness to attack lanes in the open court or off closeouts is vital for any perimeter player who will see time off the ball. Especially crucial is the ability and willingness to make ball movement decisions when putting the ball on the floor and Dru can comfortably check that box as well:
Dru can get turnover prone attacking defenders already in position in front of him on drives, and he is susceptible to committing charges, forced passes, or getting the ball stripped himself when he is navigating in traffic (This excessive aggression and physicality when a play is unable to be made at that moment also contribute to Dru’s high fouling rate). Nevertheless, Dru remains a relatively efficient and dependable offensive cog for Missouri, carrying over the signs of ultra-efficiency he displayed at Evansville.
Of course, being an efficient offensive player requires being efficient on shots as well. Dru Smith already has an innate sense for “analytically friendly” shot selection as he does not hunt down contested midrange jumpers and his physical slashing lends to a very good free throw rate for a player who is not ball dominant at all. A lack of explosion has made the blistering 70.1% mark Dru accomplished at the rim in his 2018 Evansville season likely unrepeatable at higher levels but Dru has managed to be perfectly decent as a finisher off drives for Missouri. That all leads to perhaps Dru Smith’s biggest swing skill being his shooting from beyond the arc.
It admittedly feels silly to consider three point shooting the swing skill for a player who has had a 49.1% three point shooting season before. However, that season was followed by a 29.4% three point shooting season against the higher competition of the Missouri schedule. The shooting accuracy, however, is not a grave concern at all, given how free throw percentage is usually one of the best indicators for a player’s “true” shooting capability on good looks and Dru has shot a phenomenal 87.8% from the free throw line in his NCAA career. Smith also has shot a more than respectable 36.5% from beyond the arc in his NCAA career too and has truly great balance and a compact stroke on the almost easy looking jumpers he does put up:
Yet, the true need for Dru to bust through as a truly great player is for him to get more aggressive with his jumper. For someone who makes shooting look as easy as Dru does at times, 211 NCAA career three point attempts in 88 career games is too gun-shy. Dru too often turns down good looks in the quest for great looks that may never come. Furthermore, Dru is too conservative with the types of jumpers he is willing to try and create. Smith is very good as an off ball spacer and relocator around the perimeter and probably would have had a few more attempts and makes to tally if his teammates found him for passes, but he rarely fires off higher difficulty jumpers off pullups and off movement unless the shot clock is running down or the defense gives Dru significant space. However, as a professional, scoring opportunities will come even more scarcely than they do at Missouri. Players like Marcus Smart demonstrated the value of unbridled shooting aggression as an aggressive poor shooter generally requires more defensive attention and leads to more defensive mistakes than a passive good shooter. Now, imagine if Dru adapts his aggressive mentality from his other skills to his shooting and becomes an aggressive good shooter? What a fearsome player!