ACC’s Top-25: No. 3 – Nolan Smith, Duke

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Last year during Duke’s national championship run, Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler received most of the attention as well as first team All-ACC honors. Let’s be clear though, the Blue Devils don’t even come close to winning the national championship without Nolan Smith.

While Singler and Scheyer had brilliant moments, both had stretches during the season where they struggled. Smith had no such problem.

Nolan Smith was good from smart to finish, something even die hard Devils fans had to be surprised by last year.

Prior to 2009-2010, Smith seemed like a man without a position. He rotated from shooting guard to point guard, back to shooting guard. While he had his moments, he never really looked comfortable in either guard spot. Hell, if it wasn’t for Elliot Williams transferring to Memphis, Smith probably would be coming off the bench again.

Yet, Smith was determined to erase those growing pains and he came out firing last year. After missing the first two games due to an eligibility issue, Nolan scored 44 points in his first two games, taking a team high 27 shots (hitting 15 of them). Those two games set the tone.

While Smith was clearly Duke’s most athletic player last year, few would marvel at Smith’s athleticism. However, maybe because he’s the son of a former NBA player, the kid is simple a basketball player.

He moves without the ball better than anyone in the ACC, which means he’s always a step ahead of his defender.  He also has a wicked quick catch and release and never brings the ball down to his hips when he takes a jumper. Yet, two things turned Smith into the ACC’s fifth leading score.

Prior to last year, Smith was decent three-point shooter, hitting roughly 36%, but it certainly wasn’t his favorite shot. He only took it 35% of the time (a bit low for a shooting guard). Yet as a junior, Smith discovered his stroke and confidence. He threw up 153 threes (more than double the threes he took in his career), hitting a solid 39%.

Secondly and most importantly, Smith developed the conference’s most deadly mid-range shot. To me, it’s the most important and under-used shot in college basketball.

With defenders respecting his downtown stroke, Smith was able to sneak into the lane and put up either a solid 15-foot jumper or the prettiest runner that always floated just over the opposing big man.

This is why Smith shot an amazing 44% from the floor, eighth best in the ACC, the second best for a guard (behind only Virginia’s Sylven Landesberg).

Heading into 2010-2011, Smith doesn’t really have much to work on. The fact is, he will play at the next level and it will probably be as a point guard/combo guard, coming off the bench. Sure he could use some more ball-handling skills, but with Kyrie Irving, Seth Curry and Ty Thorton joining the cast, there never will be time for Smith to put his point guard game on display.

At the very least, he needs to prove to scouts that last year was no fluke. Baring injury, I see no reason why he won’t. Look for Nolan to earn first-team All-ACC, as well as first-team All-ACC Defensive team. Obviously I can’t predict a title, but if the Blue Devils don’t win it, it won’t be because of anything Smith did or didn’t do.

Now if only we can keep him off the bowling lane.

#4 – MALCOLM DELANEY, GUARD – VA TECH

#5 – TRACY SMITH, FORWARD – NC STATE

#6 – KYRIE IRVING, GUARD – DUKE

#7 – JORDAN WILLIAMS, FORWARD – MARYLAND

#8 – DURAND SCOTT, GUARD – MIAMI

#9 – CHRIS SINGLETON, FORWARD – FLORIDA STATE

#10 – DORENZO HUDSON, GUARD – VIRGINIA TECH

#11 – DEMONTEZ STITT, GUARD – CLEMSON

#12 – REGGIE JACKSON, GUARD – BOSTON COLLEGE

#13 – JEFF ALLEN, FORWARD – VIRGINIA TECH

#14 – JOHN HENSON, FORWARD – NORTH CAROLINA

#15 – XAVIER GIBSON, CENTER – FLORIDA STATE

#16 – C.J. LESLIE, FORWARD – NORTH CAROLINA STATE

#17 – GLEN RICE JR., GUARD – GEORGIA TECH

#18 – REGGIE BULLOCK, GUARD – NORTH CAROLINA

#19 – MASON PLUMLEE, FORWARD – DUKE

#20 – C.J. HARRIS, GUARD – WAKE FOREST

#21 – SETH CURRY, GUARD – DUKE

#22 – SEAN MOSLEY, GUARD – MARYLAND

#23 – JOE TRAPANI, FORWARD – BOSTON COLLEGE

#24 – MIKE SCOTT, FORWARD – VIRGINIA

#25 IMAN SHUMPERT, GUARD – GEORGIA TECH