The player of the year race, at least if you listen to the national media, has three clear front runners at this point - Doug McDermott, Jabari Parker, and Marcus Smart (for my money, Julius Randle belongs in there, but whatever). McDermott and Smart were both pre-season selections for 1st Team All American, and Parker has emerged from the freshman crowd.
Now that the college football regular season has ended, more fans will start drifting in, and they'll find themselves in the middle of an ongoing argument. And it's about Marcus Smart. How good is he, exactly? He's been a polarizing player ever since people started listing him on their Player of the Year lists last season, and this year is no different.
There are certain members of the media who simply think that Smart is the best player in college, hands down. How else would you explain this reaction - in OSU's 97-87 win over Purdue, Marcus Smart began the game by passing it to the wrong team on a simple post entry, and then making 2 of 6 shots. Of his four misses, one made contact with the rim. That start prompted Sporting News writer Mike Decourcy to heap the following praise:
Marcus Smart is playing a video game. This is incredible.— Michael DeCourcy (@tsnmike) November 28, 2013
That for a guy who was 2-6 with a turnover at the time. Granted, Smart would go on to have a solid game, but that's nothing unusual.
Those who have already decided that Smart is the best player in college are generally major proponents of the eye test. And Marcus Smart passes the eye test, trust me. If you were in a gym with a bunch of guys you'd never seen play, he'd be the first pick. His game also backs that up. He can overpower smaller guards. He can shoot. He plays the point. He can smother players defensively, and he plays with passion.
That why I have him in the top-3 of the my current Player of the Year power rankings.
However, the argument isn't exactly crystal clear. Marcus Smart has issues. First, his shot selection is awful, and can really disrupt the flow of the offense. This stood out last year when Smart launched 131 3s but only made 29% of them. This year he's been much better (38%), but we're only seven games in. Can he really keep up that kind of percentage? That remains to be seen.
He's also too loose with the ball for a point guard. In his career he's had three games where he didn't commit a turnover, and he's already had two 5-turnover games this season. On the year he has 25 assists and 20 turnovers. This for a guy who can get into the paint at will, and is surrounded by tremendous shooters. He's blessed to play with three guys who are making 50% or more of their 3s.
Another knock is that he never shuts up, and I mean that in a bad way. He complains to the ref as much as any player I've ever watched. If aliens came down and watched a basketball game for the first time, they'd think that his constant gesticulation and gymnastics pointed toward the refs was just part of the games ballet. In the Purdue game, with his team up 70-51, he picked up his fourth foul by yelling at a ref, and then Purdue promptly closed the gap to four points.
In the end, Smart is less efficient than the other POY candidates. His offensive rating (113.3) is below the average for the Cowboys (119.3), while McDermott's oRtg is 124.4, and Parker's is 115.7 (another eye-test monster). These are the things that the eye-test crowd choose to ignore. Somehow, statistics are bad in this crowd because they tell a slanted story. But any NBA scout will tell you that you need a combination of both to truly evaluate someone. Statistics accuse, and film convicts.
If you're just coming over from the football world (welcome!), you can judge for yourself tonight, as Oklahoma State plays Memphis at 7:30 on ESPN2. If you want to see Doug McDermott, his Creighton Bluejays play an hour earlier on ESPNU, vs. George Washington.
Maybe DeCourcy said Smart was playing well because he watches the whole game instead of a stat sheet. Oh, and just so you know, Smart has a defensive rating 13 points better than Parker and 15 better than McDermott. You know, the part of the game you almost completely ignored in this article. He also has more win shares per 40 minutes than both. If you're going to use advanced stats, how about using them all instead of just the ones that got the narrative you're trying to push.