At times, it's easy to forget that Marcus Smart is undoubtedly one of the best players in America.
Unfortunately for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, those times have been far more frequent as of late. After another painfully inefficient offensive game against rival Oklahoma on Monday night, the talented sophomore is now averaging just 14.0 points per game over the last three.
Even worse, he's 10-of-39 (25.6 percent) from the field, 3-of-21 (14.3 percent) from beyond the arc and 19-of-25 (76.0 percent) from the charity stripe during the stretch, which has seen the Cowboys go 1-2.
Let's not kid ourselves. Smart is one of the best two-way players in America. He's a ferocious defender: 2.5 steals per game and 20th in the nation in steal percentage, per kenpom.com (subscription needed). He's a savvy playmaker: 4.4 assists per game to just 2.6 turnovers. He rebounds well for his position: 5.7 'boards per contest.
And it's not as though he has been invisible during this recent stretch. Against Kansas, he had 10 rebounds, nine assists, four steals and made all 10 of his free-throw attempts. Against West Virginia, his worst game of the season, he still had five rebounds, four assists and a steal.
But his shooting—and his shot selection in particular—is hurting his team.
That was never more apparent—although his early pull-up attempt over Joel Embiid against Kansas deserves an honorable mention—than in the waning moments vs. the Sooners on Monday night.
To set the scene: Oklahoma State, down by 13 just minutes earlier, is in the midst of a comeback. A Phil Forte three-pointer, Markel Brown three-point play and Le'Bryan Nash jumper cut the lead to six.
After the Sooners' Jordan Woodard hits a free throw to make it 77-70 with 3:30 remaining, the Cowboys dribble down the court with a chance to further eat into the lead.
What does Smart do? he receives the ball, doesn't survey the offense or defense, takes one dribble and pulls up for a contested three with more than 20 seconds remaining on the shot clock:
Naturally, it goes clank, the Sooners rebound and Woodard drills a three on the next possession to seal the win.
Considering the time on the clock, the game situation and the fact that OSU hadn't gotten into any kind of a set on offense, it was a horrendous decision and shot from Smart. At the very least, you run a play for Forte, who made all six of his long-range attempts on the night. If nothing's there, then you create.
USA Today's Dan Wolken summed it up:
Marcus Smart's tendency to resort to heroball is a legit concern, no?— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) January 28, 2014
Perhaps what's more troubling than the fact Smart has missed 29 shots and 18 three-pointers over the last three games is all the talent around him.
If he was stuck by himself on North Southwestern State Tech, then forcing shots would be understandable. But the Cowboys have one of the most dynamic offensive arsenals in America.
In Lawrence, Forte, one of the best shooters in the country, came off the bench to pour in 23 points. At home against the Mountaineers, Smart now infamously took his anger out on the bench after scoring just four points, but Nash came to rescue with 29.
Against the Sooners, Forte had 20 and the ultra-athletic, instant-offense Brown had 18.
How many threes should Marcus Smart be taking per game?
Smart, who is shooting barely over 30 percent from long range on the season, is showcasing an offensive tendency that is taking away shots from players who have been far more efficient and command far less defensive attention. According to kenpom.com, Smart is last on the team in effective field-goal percentage but has taken the most shots.
Smart can be an All-American without taking five treys per game.
His teammates don't need him to be a shooter. They need him to be a vocal leader, a distributor, a difference-maker on defense, a player who pushes one of the most athletic teams in America into transition and a strong, explosive guard who gets to the rim.
If he continues doing those things—and cuts out the uncontested threes—good things will be on the horizon for everyone in Stillwater.