Tyler Smith is only 19 years old, but his approach to the game is well beyond his age. The 6-10 stretch forward from Houston has all the physical tools to become a household name in the league one day. Yet, it’s his mental makeup that has NBA front offices envisioning the former 5-star recruit as a potential cornerstone piece of a winning organization who can contribute from day one.
Aside from the NBA frame he was blessed with, nothing has been handed to Tyler on a silver platter. He’s earned everything the game of basketball has given him so far. His game is so smooth, you’d think it came naturally. But Tyler is quick to dismiss that notion. “From seventh grade down, I was trash,” he tells me bluntly. It’s hard to imagine, but I’ll take the man at his word.
Basketball became his sole focus in eighth grade after giving up football, and by his 10th grade summer, Tyler had developed into one of the top prospects in his class. “I was consistently getting better–playing against the top players and playing good against them, and going to top camps and being one of the best players,” he recalls. “That’s when I realized I’m pretty good at basketball.” Many of the elite college programs in the nation realized it, too. He received offers from schools like Kansas, Baylor, Houston, Texas, Florida State and others. But Tyler had his eyes set on something even bigger. And with more pathways to the League than ever before, he decided to forgo his last two years of high school and college eligibility and turn pro, at 16 years old. His mind was made up; his goals were set, and he wanted to position himself to streamline the process of achieving them. “I realized school isn’t for everybody,” he says of his decision. “I just wanted to play basketball and go to the NBA.”
Today, Tyler is one of the most consistent players on the NBA G League Ignite squad. Naturally, the G League doesn’t yet garner as much media attention as the NCAA, so there isn’t as much “hype” surrounding Tyler’s name relative to some of his draft classmates. But Tyler (and any good NBA general manager, for that matter) knows that hype isn’t what wins championships. While most players preparing for the draft have to balance school and other obligations, Tyler’s only responsibility is hoop. In this regard, he’s already a step ahead of many of his peers, in addition to playing in an NBA system, with and against NBA vets, and training with NBA-level coaches.
Night in and night out, with G League Ignite, he displays his do-it-all skill set that has him projected to be a first-round pick in the upcoming 2024 NBA Draft. He’s a walking mismatch, big enough to punish small guards and quick enough to exploit traditional bigs. He’s bouncy and lengthy enough to finish at the rim on one end and protect the rim on the other. And he’s still getting stronger and adding muscle mass, which adds to his upside as a potential plus-defender in the League. But what Tyler does best is put points on the board. He’s a lefty sniper with beautiful shooting mechanics and extended range beyond the arc that can often leave opposing defenses in a frenzy.
His talent alone could support a 10-year stint in the League where the average career span is less than half that. But when you attach Tyler’s talent to his intangibles and work ethic, you’re looking at someone who could be a multi-time all-star and then some. How great he becomes is completely up to him, and he seems ready to attack any challenges that are on the way. He’s a coach’s dream, a sponge, willing to play any role to have a positive impact on the game.
“I feel like I can make an [instant] impact with my shooting and length on defense,“ he says, looking ahead to his rookie season.”But I just want to do whatever it takes to stay on the floor–be more vocal, set picks, do the little things just to prepare for next year.”
Photos by Max Scheide.
Source website: www.slamonline.com