Oklahoma State’s surprising, 5-0 start to the season — which included a 17 point win over Tennessee and a 20 point win over NC State — was credited, in large part, to Marcus Smart.
He’s the freshman that’s playing out of position at the point and doing things like posting 20 points, seven boards, seven assists, four steals and four blocks in games against top ten teams (NC State).
Some have said that, as of right now, he’s not just the best freshman in the country, but he deserves to have his name in the mix for national player of the year. And hey, when you put up the kind of numbers that Smart has put up and your team wins the kind of games that the Pokes won, you deserve that kind of credit.
But here’s the thing: Smart isn’t alone on that Oklahoma State roster.
The other top ten recruit that Travis Ford has at his disposal has played pretty well, also.
I’m referring to Le’Bryan Nash, who entered Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech averaging 19.2 points and 6.4 boards. More importantly, Nash putting up those numbers by taking advantage of his strengths. A year ago, the 6-foot-7 physical specimen — he’s got the build and the athleticism to be an awesome NFL tight end — spent too much time floating around the perimeter, shooting threes and trying to prove to everyone that he can score on the perimeter. This year, he’s taking the ball to the rim, whether it’s on post-ups or by putting the ball on the floor and getting by his man.
“I’m trying to lead the NCAA in free-throw attempts,” Nash told NewsOK.com. “I’m just taking what the defense gives me. And I’m playing with my teammates. My teammates give me the ball in good situations, and when you have a scoring mentality, then defenses can’t stop you. All they can do is foul you.”
Last year, Nash averaged just 4.9 free throws per game. Through five games this season, he nearly doubled that, averaging 9.6 free throws while shooting 85.7% from the stripe, up from 73.0% last year. In the wins over NC State and Tennessee, Nash shot a combined 24 free throws.
But in Saturday’s loss to Virginia Tech, Nash only got to the line twice, a season-low. He also shot a season-high 18 field goals, five of which came from beyond the arc. He had taken ten three in five games entering the weekend.
I think it’s pretty clear.
Le’Bryan Nash is at his best when he’s attacking the basket, and when he’s at his best, Oklahoma State is winning games.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.