I'll be honest. The first time I watched Junior Smith, I regarded him as a lower high-major prospect. He obviously had talent but seemed to lack the extra gear to place him on a course to succeed at a strong high-major program.
But I was wrong, or at least the evaluation changed due to Smith's rapid improvement. He looked like a much more athletic player when I watched him last fall, and he has built off that momentum this season.
He faces a conundrum of sorts close to home, because highlight reel regular Seventh Woods is regarded as the top sophomore point guard in the Carolinas. But the duo squared at the High School OT Invitational in December, and frankly Smith has played at least as well as Woods overall during my viewings of each the past few months.
Smith is a very streaky shooter, no question. He possesses legitimate three-point range but is prone to fits and stops. Ironing out that volatility will be critical for him to achieve his potential. He'll also need to tighten up his dribbling a touch against pressure, though that's hardly a severe liability.
But his game primarily consists of positives. Smith is an explosive athlete who loves to attack from the baseline, plant and dunk with leaners not unlike a young Steve Francis. He changes speeds very well and uses fakes to lock defenders' knees, making him difficult to keep out of the lane. His agility is top-notch and he utilizes reverses cleverly to elude would-be shotblockers.
Meanwhile, he's a true point guard. Although Smith's decision-making must improve as you'd expect for such a young floor general, he sees the whole court and is a talented transition passer who specializes in lobs for a very athletic Fayetteville (N.C.) Trinity Christian squad.
His defense should improve over time and, based on an impressive head-to-head showing versus Woods, he poses a threat to everyone behind and ahead of him in the class.