Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Marcus Smart shocks the world
By Eamonn Brennan
The 2013 draft is bad. Weak. Shallow. Limited. Bereft of quality players. The worst since 2000. Insert your own preferred pejorative wherever you like, but know it's probably been used already. A consensus has been reached: If you're looking for future NBA All-Stars, the June 27 draft is not the place for you.
Whether you agree with that meme or not (and I don't), whatever you thought the NBA draft was Tuesday afternoon, it got worse Tuesday night.
That's when Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart, the national freshman of the year, Big 12 player of the year and No. 2-ranked player overall on Chad Ford's NBA Draft Big Board made a legitimately shocking decision. He would forgo sure NBA riches. He would stay in school for his sophomore season.
Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart is returning for his sophomore season.
Brace yourself for an example of why they pay me the big bucks ... but this is crucially important news for Oklahoma State. (See?) Smart is a legitimate star at the collegiate level, and thrillingly unique. His stardom doesn't come from scoring, or even offense more generally; indeed, scoring was the least notable aspect of Smart's freshman season. He finished with a 102.2 offensive rating and shot just 29 percent from 3 and just 46.5 percent from inside the arc. But for a tidy 26.8 assist rate and a compensative ability to get to the foul line, Smart did his best work on the defensive end, where he finished top five in the nation in steals percentage (5.3 per 100 possessions). He is also regarded as one of the game's singular young leaders, a drive, focused force of nature who not only makes his teammates better but makes his teammates want to be better. You can't find a coach in the country who has coached with or coached against Smart who won't loudly sing his praises.
This dynamic -- shaky offense, great defense -- spawned a few regrettable stats vs. eyes arguments during Smart's freshman season, to the point where (through no fault of his own), Smart probably overshadowed the huge improvement of Cowboys shooting guard Markel Brown. And his game does have flaws, particularly that shooting. But consider this: In 2011-12, Oklahoma State ranked No. 107 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. In 2012-13, they ranked No. 11. Smart doesn't get 100 percent of the credit for that, but as his team's best defender and best player and all-around leader, he deserves plenty.
So Oklahoma State will be much better than we expected next season, because Travis Ford, and not one of the first few teams on the 2013 draft board, will have Smart in the lineup. Good enough to end Kansas' nine-year reign atop the Big 12? You won't get me on record predicting against Kansas, but it's a real possibility. Smart will be taking a chance at an injury next year, and he'll have to dive in to a much more loaded draft pool, and there will be lots of second-guesses (how do you turn down a top-five pick?) and laments (who are we supposed to draft now?).
But Smart has never struck the college hoops world as anything but a driven young dude who values the experience, who wants to win at the college level, and who doesn't much care about the rest. Come to think of it, maybe we shouldn't be so shocked after all.