Terquavion Smith: The Modern Day Sixth Man
North Carolina State sophomore Terquavion Smith is one of the most explosive offensive forces in all of college basketball and has the skills to thrive as a modern NBA sixth man.
As modern-day basketball continues to become more positionless, the variety of player archetypes we see in today’s game has evolved too. Whether it be jumbo playmakers, hybrid bigs, combo guards, 3-and-D wings, etc…there are seemingly endless ways one’s skillset can contribute to a team, regardless if you’re the face of the franchise or coming off the bench. It also gives us much more options as evaluators in trying to decipher or define how a prospect can contribute at the next level and what role may suit them the best.
One of my favorite archetypes to evaluate is the microwave scorer who can create instantaneous offense. These sixth-man types who provide invaluable shotmaking and playmaking to a rotation can be such a joy to watch operate. No other prospect in the 2023 NBA Draft class encapsulates the traits of that kind of player more, in my opinion, than North Carolina State sophomore Terquavion Smith.
The 6’4”, 165-pound lanky guard is one of the most explosive offensive talents in all of college basketball. His blend of combustible four-level scoring ability, off-the-dribble creation, and elite athleticism allow him to wreak havoc on opposing defenses. Many expected the Farmville, North Carolina product to stay in the 2022 NBA Draft after following up a freshman season where he finished 15th (520 points) in scoring in the ACC, with a strong showing during last year’s draft combine.
However, Smith returned to the Wolfpack for his sophomore campaign and has shown some really encouraging leaps on both ends of the floor. He’s made some solid improvements defensively while maintaining an impressive level of efficiency as his role has increased as a playmaker offensively. According to BartTorvik, only six players in college basketball currently have the following metrics
>105.0 Offensive Rating
>50% True Shooting Percentage
>50% Effective Field Goal Percentage
>25% Assist Percentage
<20% Turnover Percentage
>3% Steal Percentage
>5.0 Box +/-
Now I know those are very specific statistics, so please bear with me, but Smith is one of those six players putting up those numbers, and I think it’s a great analytical example of how his play has elevated this season. That combination of firepower and productivity is tantalizing to me. That’s not to say Terq still doesn’t have his flaws, as any 19-year-old prospect does. His shot selection and decision-making can still leave a lot to be desired.
As you’ll see in many of the possessions below, Smith has too quick of a trigger at times, forcing many tough looks early in the shot clock. Whether it’s a contested pull-up three from near halfcourt or hoisting a tough jumper, these are just the sort of attempts you’d like to see Terq trim out of his shot diet going forward. He’ll also rush in moments when looking to attack in transition and get out in front of his skis, if you will, or telegraph crosscourt passes that the weak side defender reads easily.
These aren’t super concerning signs or anything for me personally, though. I just believe it’s more of an indication of a young dynamic offensive player getting the ultimate green light from his coach for the first time. From an NBA perspective as well, I’m not sure Smith being the lifeblood of your offense or putting him in a primary creator role is a position that will lead to the most success for the franchise that selects him this upcoming summer.
Instead, circling back to the beginning of this piece and talking about microwave scorers who can be these lethal sixth-man types, that’s the spot I see Smith thriving in the most at the next level. Our very own Corey Tulaba did a phenomenal article last month featuring Houston guard Marcus Sasser and using his concept of Prospect Chemistry to break down how Sasser’s skillset resembles certain NBA players. I was hoping to do something similar here with Smith.
Smith’s offensive abilities are reminiscent of a current trio of NBA sixth men. His skills are a concoction of Malik Monk, Jordan Poole, and Terry Rozier’s games in my opinion. Starting with his ability as a shooter, much of what Terq does as a catch-and-shoot or pull-up threat mirrors what Monk can do. Smith’s off-the-dribble scoring ability draws a lot of the focus from people when analyzing his skills, and I’ll touch on that later, but he also can get buckets in a hurry without always having to have the ball in his hands.
Smith doesn’t need a ton of air space to get his shot off as he sports an effortlessly quick release and is seemingly always in a set position to launch from beyond the arc with virtually limitless range. Terq could build a scrapbook with the number of logos he’s hit threes from this season. You can’t leave him open on the weak side, as a trailer in transition, or on live balls because he’ll make you pay more often than not. He additionally can use the threat of his handling ability and athleticism in a deceptive way to set up quick one-dribble pull-up opportunities as well.
This is a wrinkle of Smith’s game that should give NBA evaluators confidence he doesn’t always need the rock to create offense for himself and can shoot it off of movement. You’ll be able to run him as a complementary piece out of set actions in the halfcourt offensively while utilizing his catch-and-shooting capabilities as a constant concern for defenses to worry about.
Monk showcased those same skills while at Kentucky. You’ll see countless times in the video below where he’s coming off screens or trailing in the open floor, finishing plays off with mostly catch-and-shoot threes or quick pull-ups. He just easily and smoothly gets his shot off time after time over tough defense. Smith can make the very same shots, and I’d argue he has much more potential gravity as a shooter than Monk ever did.
OTD Scoring/Ball Handling
We can’t dive in on Smith’s skillset without shining a light on what he can do as an off-the-dribble scorer. He’s simply electric at times when creating off the bounce, displaying a dangerous combination of elite first-step quickness, multifaceted shotmaking, and ball-handling ability. Terq has also shown some real evolution as a slashing threat, primarily with his increased efficiency finishing at the rim. Per BartTorvik, Smith is converting on 57.4% of his shots at the cup this year compared to just 48.2% last season. His body control when going up against contact around the paint is really sound. Smith can contort his frame to create openings for acrobatic finishes routinely and is an ambidextrous finisher who utilizes the glass extremely well.
His slashing ability is only enhanced by his slipperiness as a ball handler. He can manipulate and change speeds on a dime, putting defenders on proverbial ice skates consistently. Terq just has a knack for knowing what trick to pull out of his dribbling bag to attack the opposition, and for choosing the right tempo to break them down. He’ll freeze a guy off a float dribble, only to then swiftly counter with some quick crossover to hang them out to dry for an easy blow-by drive or stepback three.
Both Poole and Rozier displayed similar suddenness off the dribble and multi-level scoring ability during their respective stints at the collegiate level. There are different ways, though, that they compare individually to Smith. Poole had more wiggle and craftiness as a ball-handler, whereas Rozier also was shifty off the bounce but operated more as a mid-range scorer.
Terq’s style is a blend of both to me; firstly, he mimics Poole’s flair in terms of how he uses his handle to create space for stepback threes or driving lanes to slash to the rim. They can put defenders on an island off quick high ball screens, where their shared subtleness controlling the ball and explosivity becomes a nightmare to contain.
Rozier could do much of those things at this point in his development from a scoring perspective too, but again he was more of a slasher and mid-range killer than Poole. Whether it’s fadeaways, floaters, or finishing with either hand at the rim, Rozier’s shotmaking package was an extensive one. Terq has the propensity to dismantle and disarm a defense with those similar weapons. Having multiple dimensions to his scoring arsenal is what makes Smith’s pro potential so valuable, in my opinion.
I’m really not a fan of the biomechanics crowd in basketball at times, but I also think there’s some merit to the fact that the way in which Smith and Rozier move is even eerily similar. That could be meaningless ultimately, but it’s at least aesthetically interesting.
The two areas where Smith has clearly shown the most progression as a prospect are his playmaking and defensive skills. We’ll circle back on his defensive improvements later to wrap this piece up, but putting the microscope on his playmaking, Terq’s passing has taken a dramatic leap during his second year in Raleigh. The numbers speak for themselves in this regard too. Per Basketball Reference, Smith is currently leading the ACC in assists (76) and points produced (260) this season. His creation versatility has been on full display for talent evaluators.
Smith’s been tasked with a much more expansive playmaking role for Kevin Keatts’s squad this year and has flourished in a variety of ways in my eyes. He’s shown the capacity to create out of the pick-and-roll game or in the open floor in transition and is an awesome live dribble passer.
Terq’s vision and feel as a pick-and-roll creator specifically really has been joyous to watch for me as an evaluator. In the clips below, you will see him regularly set up his teammates D.J. Burns Jr. and Dusan Mahorcic with perfectly placed pocket or bounce passes while rolling to the rim. He’s also adept at finding shooters along the weak side wings and is an underrated off-hand passer too. I actually wish Smith trusted his playmaking more at times, as I believe it only boosts his scoring ability.
As I mentioned previously, I don’t know if making Terq your primary offensive initiator or creator at the next level will lead to the most success for the NBA team that drafts him. However, he’s got too much variety and skill as a passer to where I believe he could really blossom as a secondary or even tertiary playmaker for a rotation.
Finally, briefly touching on the jumps Smith has made defensively: he’s gone from a borderline liability on that end of the floor to a player who competes with solid effort and creates plays as a defender. Terq’s really impressed me with some of the work he’s done this season helping off the ball. I love the way he closes out to shooters while rotating to the weak side and how he’s become more assertive on switches.
I thought this was no more evident than in the Wolfpack’s game against the Kansas Jayhawks last month during the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. While defending fellow projected first round pick, freshman Gradey Dick, in the montage below, you’ll see Smith stifle him a few times and even block one of his three-point attempts on a great closeout. Those weren’t the kind of plays he was capable of making as a freshman. The stats also support the improvements Terq’s made on the defensive end. According to Basketball Reference, he’s got a defensive rating of 96.3 this season which is a sizable jump from his 110.5 rating a year ago.
In a loaded 2023 draft class, I don’t think Smith belongs in the same discussion as the Victor Wembanyamas and Scoot Hendersons of the world, obviously. But I hope I’ve presented a really strong case for why he should be a surefire first round selection this year and the value he can bring to an NBA lineup as a sixth man—especially in a league where shotmaking has become a premium and every team scores at least 108 PPG currently, I’m not sure why Smith can’t succeed in today’s game.
Before I started working on this piece, I asked my colleague Albert Ghim for some help coming up with the theme for this and what his general thoughts on Smith as a prospect were. He provided the following creative summation, which describes Terq’s ability better than I ever could.
Terq Smith: the Air Fryer of College basketball. Crispy end product, essential, heats up QUICKLY.
So for whichever NBA franchise ends up selecting Terquavion Smith, I simply ask you to let the man cook.