Kendall Smith didn’t come to UNLV as a heralded recruit. He wasn’t listed in the top 100 for the Class of 2013 by Rivals or Scout, and his commitment didn’t make national news the way Anthony Bennett, Katin Reinhardt or Dwayne Morgan did.
But that’s no reason to dismiss Smith’s chances of contributing this season. In fact, there are a number of counter-reasons why the freshman could end up playing a significant role for the Rebels in 2013-14:
1. Available minutes in backcourt
This is the No. 1 factor in determining how much Smith plays this season. As detailed earlier this week in our updated 2013-14 roster projection, the Rebels are deep on the perimeter, and he’s probably fourth on the depth chart at point guard and shooting guard as of now.
But the guy directly ahead of him, senior Kevin Olekaibe, is still waiting for word from the NCAA on his transfer waiver—and there’s no guarantee it goes through. If that happens, Smith is suddenly third on the depth chart and in position to be the first guard off the bench.
And even if Olekaibe clears, Smith will still get a chance to compete with him in preseason. So it’s not a lock, but Smith at least has a path to playing time this season.
2. Positional versatility
This ties in with the first point. Smith can play both point guard and shooting guard, and he displayed a pretty good feel for each position in high school. When he played on his AAU team, which was loaded with scorers, his assists went up as he focused on distributing. When he played for his high school team, where he was the best player, he focused on scoring and put up 22 points per game.
That combo-guard mentality should suit him well at UNLV, where Dave Rice encourages players to push the ball in transition after every defensive stop.
“He can play multiple positions,” Rice said. “He’s capable of being a pass-first point guard, but he’s also very capable of being a scorer from the wing.”
If Smith can fill in at two positions, his chances of getting on the court go up.
3. Scorer’s touch
When forecasting the 2013-14 Rebels, the biggest question may be where the scoring comes from. Bryce Dejean-Jones could be a capable go-to guy, but overall the team doesn’t appear to be an offensive juggernaut. So if Smith can put the ball in the basket, he’ll most likely find himself playing more minutes.
He only shot 23.8 percent from 3-point range as a senior in high school, but otherwise Smith showed a good ability to find creases, get to the basket and create high-percentage chances. It will take him some time to adjust to the speed of the college game, but eventually Smith’s scoring prowess should translate.
4. Athletic ability
This is why the Rebels can be optimistic about Smith making the transition to the college game. As Smith continues to grow into his body, he appears to be adding more and more athleticism. For a guy who already had good physical skills at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, that increased quickness and leaping ability could make him an even more dangerous scorer from either backcourt position.
5. Strong summer
Every person I’ve talked to about the Rebels this summer has mentioned that Smith looks impressive in workouts. He’s reportedly been pushing the ball the ball aggressively and playing above the rim, and Rice sounds like he’s sold.
“There is no doubt that he will play minutes for us this season,” Rice said. “I anticipate that if Kendall continues the progress he has made this summer, he will play quality minutes for us at multiple positions.”
This far from the start of the season, that’s about as concrete a statement as you’re going to get from the head coach. Expect Smith to play and contribute in some fashion this season.
Updated UNLV Roster Projection: 2013-14
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