Braden Smith, reigning Indiana Mr. Basketball, comes to Purdue looking to fit right in from the start.
Braden Smith’s senior season highlights are wild. The torching of the nets from his shooting, freezing of defenders with no-look passes, and intensity that he played with all are things that very quickly show themselves when watching him play.
I think this singular play (click video button above) does the best of encapsulating the tenacity and playmaking that Smith plays with. This was in sectionals against Fishers, who was the second-best team in the state. It starts with a deep pull-up three with a hand in his face. Then a slight taunt to the opposing student section. A hustle steal follows, and It is finished off by an on-the-move, left-handed dime to the rim runner for an easy two. That was just the Braden Smith experience.
A lot has been talked about with Purdue and their (lack of) point guards. Although just a freshman, Braden Smith projects to fill that gap for the next few years. His facilitating and shooting combo, along with his defensive upside, pencil him in to lead the Purdue backcourt for years to come. With reports from preseason coming in of how well Smith is playing, I am fully expecting Smith to be starting right away.
Before diving into what makes me excited for his future at Purdue, let’s go over some of his high school stats. As a 4-year varsity player, Braden Smith averaged 17.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game while shooting 50% from the field and 43% from downtown per Max Preps. He scored a total of 1,629 points in his career, and that would have been more if not for an injury his senior season. He is also the reigning Mr. Basketball Indiana, giving Purdue 2 consecutive recruits to win that award (Caleb Furst – 2021).
Shooting and Shot Creation
Having not watched much of him before diving into some film recently, I was shocked by how confident Smith was shooting the ball. Contested pull-up? Splash. Step Back? Count it. Volleyball line three? Good as gold. Now there is a lot of hope that some of these traits will translate for the Black and Gold.
With Braden Smith being the focal point of defensive game plans, he was not given many catch-and-shoot opportunities. Plays like the one above, where he would jab and shoot, were the closest he got to a rhythm three that was not off the dribble. In high school, it did not really matter how much or little space he had, if there was room a shot was going up (and likely in). He and his team had tons of confidence in him that allowed him to take some of these shots.
The clip above does a good job showing his mechanics in their most basic form. The mechanics look very good, and the only slight concern I have is the release being a little slow when in the Big Ten, but it should not be an issue at all.
As mentioned above, Smith did not get a ton of set shots in high school. What he did to get in rhythm was utilize his ball handling to create space and rhythm. Here it is an in-n-out crossover into a pull-up. One thing he does great is set the defender up. He is so good at utilizing his body to put defenders on skates and going the opposite way immediately. Purdue does not have anyone on the roster currently that has proven they can make those types of shots at the Big Ten level.
Last one (although there are so many more that could be included). This is a full step-back, and it really is almost two step-backs in a row. Smith does not get the defender to budge as much this time, but he still gets all the space he needs. Although I can’t imagine Painter allowing too many step-back 3s from a freshman at Purdue, I think the important thing from this play is how quickly he got his feet set. It’s an immediate plant of the feet after the step-back, and this is what allows him to get the shot up over the outstretched defender.
Maybe (probably) he won’t be taking pull-up threes of these calibers at Purdue to start, but Purdue loves off-ball action for shooters. These actions generally require quick setting of the feet and being able to contort the body coming off of different angles. Smith presented those qualities and more in high school.
As mentioned above, Braden Smith averaged five assists per game in his high school career, with six per game his senior year. This is due to his ability to break defenders off the dribble, but more importantly, he was reading the game at a different level than everyone else on the floor. He knew how to manipulate defenders into opening up passing lanes for his guys. Some of it was really high-level stuff. At times, this would get him in trouble as he would try and force. Nevertheless, the passing chops are legit, and there is no reason they should not translate.
Just an insane pass here (#1 in black). After helping create the turnover, there is a loose ball that rattles around past half-court. This shows off the awareness and flare that Braden Smith has with the ball and everyone on the court. Diving nearly out of bounds while flipping it across the body and court right to the target is not a normal thing. Like a senior in high school should not be making those types of plays. He just understands where the ball needs to go and how to get it there.
Here is a play that is more likely to occur at Purdue. Smith gets an empty side pick and roll, and he refuses the screen to get downhill into the paint. The magic happens once in the paint. Look at Braden Smith’s eyes as he is moving into the jump pass. He is staring down #12 in the corner with the sole purpose of moving #14 in blue towards there. As soon as the defender journeys towards the corner, Smith rifles a pass to fellow DI recruit, Cam Haffner (#3). Smith has an understanding of how to manipulate defenses with his eyes and body that can’t be taught.
Again, Braden Smith just understands basketball at a different level. Westfield goes Spain pick and roll, and Smith slices it up. He gets downhill and has 3.5 defenders collapse on him. This gives him options. While elevating he rotates his body to be able to survey the entirety of the court. He once again freezes the defender (I can’t tell the number, but I am referring to the one that is kind of caught between everyone) with his eyes. The defender was going to defend the roll, but then Smith looks to the top of the key which causes the defender to stop in his tracks. The roller becomes open for an easy bucket.
Smith moves defenders with his eyes and body just to open up a different passing lane. It is not normal for a senior to do that, and I have little doubt it has trouble translating to Purdue.
Things to Improve
Off Ball Defense
I am going to start this with a couple of caveats.
One, I think Smith more than has the tools to be a good off-ball defender. I believe in his IQ, and he more than has the hustle and intensity. He had many good off-ball defensive plays in high school, but many came off of making gambles that I am not sure Purdue is going to allow.
Two, a lot of this may just be because of the offensive burden he was tasked with at Westfield. He may try to conserve some energy on defense at times because he was the primary offense for 32 minutes a game.
With that being said, I think there are some areas to improve.
Defense really is one of the tougher things to scout on for an individual talent. Here, Smith does not help at all on the screen which allows an open jumper. I don’t know the scouting report though. There is a chance that Braden Smith’s man was someone they did not want touching the ball, and they were fine with the other guy shooting.
With that being said, Smith made no effort to at least stunt and help on the screen. Any sort of movement could have deterred a shot until the defender got back.
Here Smith (#1 in white) completely loses sight of the ball. His man jogs down the baseline and Smith turns his back. The ball handler almost runs into Smith without him even noticing. Little things like that can really be targeted in college, and they could end up being a big difference in a game.
I often found Smith standing very vertical both on and off ball. At the high school level he could get away with it. At Purdue, there’s no way it will fly.
Ball Handling Against Lanky Defenders
Braden Smith has really good control of the ball. He has the moves and body movement to set defenders up. The one area in that I saw him get into trouble was against lanky defenders that would really get into him while dribbling.
Here Smith (#10) gets a longer defender switched onto him. The defender is able to jab in and use his length to disrupt him. This causes Braden Smith to not be able to really get into his moves. I think once he does start to get downhill he is fine, but the longer defender like this can really disrupt the setup for it.
Smith will be fine handling the ball against a good amount of defenders, I am just worried some about him going up against some more athletic defenders at the Big Ten level.
Point of Attack Defense
Per Nick Baumgart, Braden Smith measured a wingspan of 6’5. I think this long wingspan gives him a huge advantage over other point guards in the Big Ten, or at worst, it diminishes opposing point guard advantages. In the games I watched, Smith was primarily off-ball on defense which allowed him to gamble for steals and rotate where necessary. This led to a lack of on-ball reps though.
He did however take on the task of defending Fletcher Loyer in the second half of their regional game. Loyer is an insane shooter, so he still got his points, but Smith made life extremely difficult for him. The defensive move helped lead Westfield to the comeback win.
Here is a clip of Smith really getting into Loyer and keeping him moving laterally the entire time. He used his length to poke at the ball and disrupt. Great defense here, just Loyer is an insane shooter. Purdue takes that kind of on-ball defense from Smith 100 times out of 100.
Finishing at the Big Ten Level
Smith was a crafty finisher in high school. He never seemed to power over people or anything, but he understood how to use angles.
Here is a prime example of it. Smith is able to rip through and get past the defender. He then hangs near the rim to absorb contact before finishing. He often was looking for contact when driving. It felt like most of his finishing was created because of creating separation early from the defender. It will be interesting to see how this translates to being at Purdue against Big Ten guards.
Amid all of the talk and controversy of Purdue finding a point guard, Braden Smith may have been the answer all along. He balled out in high school, and he has all of the desirable traits that one would want from their starting point guard. He can shoot, drive, facilitate, and has the tools to defend. What is there not to like?
More than anything, he is a competitor and winner. Smith is fiery, and I think opposing Big Ten teams are going to dread having to go up against him. He projects to be a 4-year player, and I can’t imagine what a 22-year-old Braden Smith will be able to do in college basketball. I truly believe that the sky is the limit for this point guard of the future.
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