Over the last two weeks, the No. 1 talking point when it comes to Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart is his penchant for flopping.
And it’s justified. Smart has made a habit out of, ahem, over-emphasizing contact and wayward elbows. It’s not new — he did this last season as well — but it came to a head on Monday night when the all-american somehow managed to pull off the never-before-seen double-flop.
It’s spectacularly hilarious, the kind of play that will get talked about on shows like Around The Horn and Pardon The Interruption while making the rounds on the blogosphere. Smart was asked about his acting skills, admitting to Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com that he knows he “probably built up a little reputation” but that “I’m not the only one flopping”.
The irony is that the flopping really doesn’t matter at all.
It’s Smart trying to earn a call from the refs, and it’s quite often successful.
But it’s not the biggest issue in his game in recent weeks. Those flops aren’t the reason that Oklahoma State has lost three in a row or four of their last five games. It’s not the reason that Smart has played some of the worst basketball of his collegiate career during that stretch.
I went back and watched tape of all of Smart’s possessions during Big 12 play and the three-game stretch earlier this year where he shot to the top of everyone’s all-american lists to try to figure out just what is going on with him, and this is what I found:
1. Smart isn’t a bad shooter, he’s a bad decision-maker: One of the reasons that Smart made the decision to return to school this summer was that he wanted to improve his jump shot. Talk to anyone around the kid and they’ll tell you that he’s a worker, a guy that will put in the hours in the gym. But that doesn’t make sense given that Smart’s three-point shooting percentage has dropped this season, from 29.0% as a freshman to 28.2% as a sophomore. The fact that he’s made just four of his last 33 threes certainly hasn’t helped that percentage.
Prior to this recent cold stretch, Smart was shooting 34.5% from three. That’s respectable, especially when you consider the following:
The issue isn’t necessarily Smart’s shooting ability. He hits his free throws, he goes on stretches where he can knock down three or four threes in a row and his form actually looks pretty good most of the time. I don’t think anyone would complain about a 34.5% three-point shooter taking a wide-open, rhythm three after a post-touch leads to a ball-reversal.
Smart’s problem is that those aren’t the threes he’s shooting. Quite frankly, he takes too many terrible shots.
Smart loves ‘heat checks’. When he does make a three, you’ll make a lot of money if you find a way to bet on him taking another three on the next possession. He’s also unafraid to fire away with a hand in his face, regardless of how much time is left on the shot clock, and has a habit of shooting fade-aways and tough pull-ups even if they are from 22 feet.
Here’s a great example. Smart has a mismatch with a bigger defender guarding him, but instead of putting the ball on the floor and going by him, he … takes a step-back three?:
2. Is Smart aware of his strengths and weaknesses as a player?: Smart is as good as anyone at getting into the lane, possessing the strength to finish through contact around the rim. Why, then, does he take 5.3 threes per game? Why are 53.5% of his shot attempts jump shots?
Smart is a terrific defender that can dominate that end of the floor. He’s got some of the best instincts I’ve ever seen. He’s one of the best passers in the country thanks to excellent vision and a knack for finding a lane to make tough passes in crowded spaces. He’s got a high turnover rate, but those have more to do with bad ball-handling than they do bad passes and he’s actually improved in that area of his game this year. He’s at his best when he’s post up or attacking the rim off the dribble, either finishing for himself or finding open teammates when the help comes.
So why does he insist on trying to be Jabari Parker? Why does he routinely get suckered in when defenses dare him to shoot? Why won’t he go to the basket every chance he gets?
Here’s the best example of what I’m talking about. It’s a play you all should remember:
What is that shot? Three possessions early, he gave Oklahoma State a two-point lead by crushing DeAndre Kane with a drop-step on the opposite block. What does he take an awkward, off-balance fadeaway here?
3. Smart’s not just flopping, he’s searching for contact: One thing I noticed in the last couple of weeks, is that Smart no longer seems to be attacking the basket to try and score, particularly in transition. He appears to be more concerned with trying to draw a foul than he does with trying to get a bucket. Smart is at his best when he’s using his strength and body control to score around the rim. He doesn’t need to resort to trying to get bailed out; he’ll get the call when he goes up strong.
4. Composure: Smart has had some emotional outbursts in recent weeks, most notably in the game against West Virginia when he curb-stomped a chair on OSU’s bench and, in the second half, stormed away from the court and into a back hallway. You never want to see a player lose their composure like that.
And, if you read a bit into some of what he told Goodman today, I don’t think it’s difficult to infer that Smart’s been frustrated by some of the officiating of late.
“It’s so inconsistent,” Smart said about the new rules. “We have no idea what to expect. And as a player, it messes with your mind. It’s incredible how inconsistent the new rules have been. If they call it on one end, they have to call it on the other end. I don’t blame it on anyone. It’s a big adjustment for the refs also. They’re learning just like us.”
“I know players are going to go out and take shots at me,” he added. “Starting this game, I’m putting it in the back of my mind. If that’s how it’s going to be played, that’s how it’s going to be played. If they can do it to me, I can do it also. That’s my mindset from here on out. Physically, there’s going to be nothing easy.”
Smart is as competitive as anyone, but this losing seems to be frustrating him.
He’s supposed to be this group’s leader. Forced shots, demonstrative reactions to calls he doesn’t like, and playing outside of his strengths is not leadership.
If Smart can’t right this ship, Oklahoma State’s season will not turn around.