Jan. 6, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Nolan Smith controls the ball during game against the Phoenix Suns at the US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Trail Blazers 102-77. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Nolan Smith Croatia Bound

Former Portland Trail Blazer, Nolan Smith, will play for Cedevita Zagreb in Croatia this year. Prior to suffering a leg injury while playing for the Boston Celtics’ Summer League team in Orlando, Smith was anticipated to receive an invite to Boston’s training camp. Whether he’d have ended up there is a moot point now, as Smith has decided to take what abilities he has to Croatia.

I think this is a good move for him. He never played up to his potential in the NBA and was injured far too often to prove that he could. Many fans lamented his draft day selection in 2011, when the Blazers had verbally agreed to draft Kenneth Faried if available, but instead chose Smith with the 21st pick. He was under fire early, as Faried rapidly gained acclaim as an up-and-coming hustle player, while Smith struggled out of the gates.

It’s fair to say that the cards were stacked against him from day one. We had no right to expect greatness from a pick outside of the top 20, but because of his juxtaposition with The Manimal, he came under immediate scrutiny for his mistakes. Of course, this doesn’t excuse washing out, but the spotlight on his failures was brighter than it is for most guys drafted late in the first round.

In two seasons with the Blazers, Smith averaged 3.3 points on an abysmal 37.1% shooting. It came as no surprise that Portland did not attempt to bring him back. The nice thing about it is that Smith was a-okay with that, and hearing what he had to say during his exit interview in April, I support his decision to play in a league where he can see time on the court:

I think in this league I’ve had the chance to watch a lot of games. Playing time makes a big difference. You know, if you get three minutes or you get twenty minutes, it’s a big difference and I know how to play this game. I feel like if you put me on the court for an extended amount of time and say, “go make plays,” I know how to win. I’m a winner. It will happen.

To a degree, he’s right. It’s very difficult to make improvements when you’re a spectator. Fans sitting close enough to hear the huddles don’t walk away any better at basketball, why should he? The other edge to that sword is earning the minutes. If Terry Stotts didn’t see potential in Nolan Smith, I can’t fault him for not wanting to waste time on Smith’s development if he presented a detriment to the team’s success.

In Croatia, Smith will get the playing time he wants in a league that is more his pace. The NBA is not for everybody and I’m glad that he has found a place that can fulfill his basketball needs. Maybe, he will be the star for Cedevita Zagreb that he couldn’t be for Portland. Best of luck, Nolan.

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