Marcus Smart NBA

College Coaches Aren’t That Smart About Smart

I fully recognize and accept that the majority of college basketball coaches know way more about the Xs and Os of basketball than I do. As a matter of fact they know more about the Xs and Os of basketball than probably 99.9% of people watching their team play.

But when it comes to player value and stats, some of them seem trapped in the past and glued to buzzwords like “winner” and “competitor” that sound great without context, but might not necessarily stand up to facts.

To wit: in a poll with CBS, college coaches selected Oklahoma State Sophomore Marcus Smart as the player they would most want on their team this coming season, with Smart grabbing 34% of the vote. Doug McDermott (24%), Andrew Wiggins (15%), Aaron Craft (6%) and Julius Randle (5%) rounded out the top 5.

I am apparently fairly alone on this ledge, but I don’t really see it with Smart. He is obviously a great defender and I won’t argue otherwise, but he had just a 5.7% gap between his assist and turnover rates last year, had just a 45.5% eFG and despite not being able to shoot the three to save his life (29%), he still took 131 of them. Why his voluminous total of three point attempts was him being a gamer and winner whereas Russ Smith (32.8%) is “just a gunner” I’ll never know.

As for the assists/turnovers, Smart’s 5.7% gap between his assist and turnover rate is less than Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe (6.9%). Tharpe also had higher assist rate than Smart while having a turnover rate less than a percent higher. But Tharpe is considered the achilles heel of the 2013-14 Kansas Jayhawks, whereas Marcus Smart is going to lead Oklahoma State to glory.

Said the coach quoted in CBS’s piece about Smart:

“He just has something a little different in him. There's just something extra him that he's going to beat you. Also, guys play for him. Not many kids like that anymore. Almost none actually.”

Is there that something extra that he’s going to beat you? I don’t like using team stats to demonstrate a player’s worth, but Oklahoma State finished third in the Big 12, didn’t make the Big 12 tournament final, and then lost in the round of 64 in the NCAA tournament. Doesn’t really scream “he’s going to beat you” to me.

As to the second part of that statement, I have no idea how to evaluate whether or not a kid plays for his teammate or not. I would imagine more do than that coach would believe, but regardless a coach seems in a better position to evaluate that than me. Or maybe it’s a nonsense buzzword thrown out there because there aren’t any stats to back that opinion up. LeBryan Nash and Markel Brown each improved to the point that either of them (48% eFG and 50.3% eFG) probably should have taken the bulk of the shots before Smart did (45.5% eFG). Does Smart get credit for making them better? Or does he get dinged for not deferring a bit more?

I’m not saying Marcus Smart isn’t a good player, and I’m not saying I wouldn’t want him on my team. But he wouldn’t be my first team All-American if I had a preseason vote, and he certainly wouldn’t be the guy I’d pick to have on my team. That would either be Doug McDermott, who efficiently carries the bulk of his team’s offense, or Russ Smith, who I think might be a tad (just a tad, don’t kill me stats people) overrated on offense (I don’t think he’ll draw as many fouls or shoot as well from two this year), but backs it up by being one of the best perimeter defenders in the country.