Nolan Smith struggled to achieve consistent play as a freshman. He was brilliant at times particularly in games at Maryland and Wake Forest, scoring 14 and 21 points respectively, but ineffective at times, such as the seven games where he did not score a point. Additionally, Smith did not have back-to-back double digit scoring games. But that is the life of a freshman in the tough ACC, especially a combo guard who is expected to score, handle the ball, play pressure defense, and make very few mistakes along the way. Smith's freshman season statistics were a respectable 5.9 points in 14.7 minutes per game, and those numbers were hampered by Smith nursing a sore knee over the last month of the season.
In his sophomore season, Smith will be competing for an open spot in the starting line-up due to the graduation of DeMarcus Nelson. Jon Scheyer and in-coming McDonald's All-American Elliot Williams will be his main competition with redshirt junior Marty Pocius also in the mix. Smith's main advantage should be his on-the-ball defense. With a year of experience under his belt, Smith will be more comfortable with Duke's defensive schemes and should be competitive to step into the role of shutdown perimeter defender previously occupied by ACC Defensive Player of the Year DeMarcus Nelson. Whether he earns the starting spot or comes off the bench Smith will need to play aggressive defense to earn significant playing time.
On offense, Smith demonstrated the ability to knock down the 3-point shot, making 38.6 percent during his freshman season, or explode to the rim with athleticism. Improving his assists to turnover ratio of .92 will need to be a focus area this coming season. This is paramount if Smith aspires to make the transition from combo guard to legitimate point guard the position many analysts see as his ultimate destiny at Duke and beyond. He has the explosiveness and court vision to play the point and making better decisions should come with experience. If Smith demonstrates the ability to distribute the basketball, he should challenge for a slot in the starting line-up.
Comparing Nolan Smith to previous Duke guards results in the name Daniel Ewing. Ewing was a combo guard who successfully quarterbacked the offense in his senior season. As a freshman, Ewing’s numbers of 6.5 points in 18.2 minutes per game are comparable to Smith’s 5.9 points in 14.7 minutes. Ewing’s numbers increased to 12 points in 27.9 minutes as a sophomore and while it is unlikely Smith will see 27 minutes a game due to Duke’s deep roster it is not unrealistic to expect his points per game to approach double digits. Moreover, Ewing was a consistently strong defender who drew the assignment of guarding the opponent’s top perimeter player. That is the role many expect Nolan Smith to fulfill in his second season as a Blue Devil.