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Strong summer proves Smith is ready for the NBA

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Russ Smith delivered another blow to his critics, which is what he does every chance he gets.

“I don’t know why people always doubt it,” he said “I seem to always do well and I am consistently doubted.”

None of that has changed. The Williamsburg native and former Archbishop Molloy star has left a lasting impression with his first foray into professional basketball.

The 6-foot Smith averaged 16.0 points and a league-leading 6.4 assists to go along with 5.0 rebounds while playing point guard for the New Orleans Pelicans in the recent NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. The rookie’s efforts earned him a selection to the All-League second team. Smith felt he showed people he could do the things needed to be a NBA point guard.

“I think that’s great for that to happen to me,” he said. “It showed I could run a pick and roll, get guys involved. It brought out some elements of my game.”

People along the way questioned if Smith was good enough for the NBA. He stayed for his senior season at Louisville to become more polished after leading the Cardinals to a national championship the year prior. There are still improvements to be made, like improving his free throw shooting and limiting turnovers.

Smith was drafted 47th overall in the second round by the Philadelphia 76ers before being traded to New Orleans for point guard Pierre Jackson, who tore his Achilles during the Orlando Summer League. He returned home last week to New York City and gave people an up-close reminder of how good he’s become.

Smith didn’t play much streetball in college, because he stayed at Louisville to work out over the summer. He made up for lost time by competing in as many leagues as he could around the New York City circuit because he tried to stay in playing shape. He played at the Entertainers Basketball Classic at Rucker Park, Hoops in the Sun on the Bronx, Gershwin Park in Brooklyn, and at Nike Pro City at Baruch College. He said it felt like a different game than what he is used to.

“All my friends were playing,” Smith said. “I lost that kind of element to playing streetball, that one-on-one stuff.”

What he’s never lost is being a winner and showing up late in games. Smith delivered a victory again for Big Apple Basketball with its playoff hopes on the line against defending champion Sean Bell at Pro City last week. Smith buried a three-pointer from the left side with 1:37 left to play in the game to give his team a three-point lead. On the next possession he drove into the paint, drew multiple defenders, and found an open teammate for a baseline jumper to put the contest out of reach.

“The last five or six minutes of the game, you have to make the best decisions on the court,” Smith said. “I’ve been in those situations a lot. I’ve been fortunate to win many games and that’s what I tried to do today.”

All signs point to Smith continuing to succeed, continuing to improve, and continuing to make it harder and harder to doubt him. It’s just what he’s always done.

Reach reporter Joseph Staszewski at jstaszewski@cnglocal.com. Follow him on twitter @cng_staszewski.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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