Whether it’s leading the New York Catholic League in scoring two straight years in high school, averaging 23.6 points per game during four seasons at Louisville or erupting for a D-League single-game record 65 points last year, Russ Smith has always gotten buckets.
Now the former Louisville star is piling up points in China at an unprecedented pace.
In five games with Luoyang of the NBL, China’s second-tier professional basketball league, Smith is averaging a head-turning 61.4 points. The 6-foot combo guard went off for a season-best 81 points on Wednesday in Luoyang’s 142-130 victory over Jiangsu.
Russ Smith’s 81 points today in 142-130 win
— Sportando (@Sportando) July 5, 2017
A common criticism of Smith earlier in his career was that he needed too many shots to get his points, but the 26-year-old has scored with efficiency so far in China. Relying mostly on his knack for blowing by defenders off the dribble, Smith is shooting 49 percent from the field, 37 percent from behind the arc and 87.4 percent at the foul line.
The modest level of competition in the NBL has also surely been a factor in Smith’s dominance.
Since NBL teams are allowed to have only a limited number of foreign imports, most rosters consist primarily of Chinese-born players. Among the league’s most recognizable Americans besides Smith are former D-Leaguers Josh Akognon, Kevin Murphy and Chris Johnson.
Smith is hoping to parlay a strong summer in China into a contract offer from an NBA team or at least an invitation to camp. The leading scorers in the NBL the past four years averaged between 30 and 44 points, well shy of what Smith has done so far.
“We are keeping everyone in the league informed and there is some interest,” agent Adam Pensack, co-founder of the Pensack Sports Management Group, told Yahoo Sports. “I suspect interest will continue to grow as we get further into July and further into Russ’ season. Nobody has ever done what Russ is doing in the Chinese NBL.”
A largely unheralded recruit when he signed with Louisville in 2010, Smith earned the nickname “Russdiculous” for his effectively reckless style of play on the court and his charm and sense of humor off of it. He evolved from role player to All-American during his four-year career, leading the Cardinals to the 2012 Final Four and 2013 national title.
Selected with the 47th pick in the 2014 NBA draft, Smith spent the next two seasons bouncing to and from the New Orleans Pelicans, the Memphis Grizzlies and their respective D-League affiliates. He spent the first half of last season in Turkey before returning to the D-League in January.