Game Recap: Marcus Smart’s Struggles

Posted by on February 2, 2014

Betting against Kansas in the Big 12 is never a good idea, but Oklahoma State figured to be a worthy opponent this season. However, after a bad loss at home to Baylor, OSU is just 4-4 in conference play. Oklahoma State is second in the conference in defensive efficiency, but just sixth on the offensive end. Baylor ended a five game losing streak on Saturday with the win in Stillwater.
 
Baylor zoned OSU nearly the entire game yesterday. The gameplan was relatively simple: Make players not named Phil Forte hit jump shots. Baylor’s 1-3-1 zone (which has been called a 1-1-3 zone by announcers, but certainly looks like a 1-3-1) has been mediocre at best this season. They ranks 80th in the country in AdjD. However, Oklahoma State’s 6-21 performance from three (including 0-7 from Marcus Smart) and turnovers fueled a solid defensive effort for Baylor. Northwestern State and Chaminade are among the teams that have scored more points per possession against Baylor than Oklahoma State did on Saturday.
 
Marcus Smart hasn’t quite made as big of a jump on the offensive end as expected in his sophomore season. Smart is a member of the all-intangibles team, but still has only shot 28.6% from three (on 112 attempts). Of the 339 players with at least 100 three-point attempts, Smart ranks 333rd in percentage. Smart is still an elite perimeter defender, but even OSU’s defense has declined from last season. This defensive decline actually isn’t all that unusual, but it’s taken Oklahoma State out of the national title picture.
 
Smart’s offensive struggles go beyond just missing perimeter shots. On Saturday, Baylor exploited Smart’s perimeter abilities with their zone. Baylor often had three guys around the ball on the inside, opting to leave Smart open on the perimeter. Take a look at the first possession of the game for OSU:
 
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Baylor’s defensive strength is length on the interior. They presumably play zone to keep Austin and Jefferson on the inside to protect the rim. Stretch them out and they have had big problems getting stops. On Saturday, however, Baylor clogged the paint and let Smart try to beat them.
 
When sixth man Phil Forte was in the game for OSU, Baylor made sure to keep a special eye on him. Forte is one of the best shooters in the country, but struggled to find open looks against Baylor’s length. His 0-4 night from three was a combination of a little luck and a great Baylor gameplan. Check out Baylor’s defensive positioning on Forte compared to Smart below:
 
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With Forte in the corner, the bottom defender (Jefferson) is forced to step out to deny a pass. Still, Baylor keeps four guys in the paint. On the kick out to Smart, defenders ran out under control ready to contain. This trend continued throughout the second half. When Smart was out on the perimeter, OSU couldn’t create proper spacing against the zone:
 
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Again, Smart is unable to occupy the man in his area. Normally, Heslip would rotate over to the mid-line on a post double like this one. Instead Heslip stays with Forte, ultimately leading to a missed uncontested three by Smart.
 
This post is not to say that Marcus Smart isn’t one of the premier point guards in the country. On Saturday he did some good work inside and in transition. Still, there are other guys simply playing better basketball this season. Pitt’s Lamar Patterson is a guy that’s produced just as well (or better) than Smart with a fraction of the attention. Smart provides plenty of leadership and toughness to OSU. The notion that those two things are valuable to a basketball team is absolutely accurate. However, the notion that they are “intangibles” is misguided at best. Sure, they are hard to isolate and quantify. But the “little things” are only as important as their ability to indirectly affect the big things like shooting, taking care of the ball, rebounding, and getting to the line. This season, OSU just hasn’t been quite as good at those compared to expectations.
 

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