Marcus Smart is developing a reputation in the Big 12 and not a good one
JAN 20, 2014 11:11p ET
Marcus Smart is the most talented player on the floor nearly every time he checks in at the scorer's table.
He's an All-American and a one of a handful of guys with a case as college basketball's biggest talent.
He's also on the fast track to being Public Enemy No. 1 in the Big 12, and it has nothing to do with that talent.
It has everything to do with his maddening habit of flopping. On Saturday in an 80-78 road loss to Kansas, he provided more ammunition.
Maybe he was just grossed out by the taste of the sweat on Wayne Selden's elbow, but after it barely grazed his mouth, Smart jerked his head back and covered his lips, drawing an offensive foul on Selden. I just wish he'd had a blood capsule to bite down on. You know, really sell the foul.
Smart's not breaking any laws. Until he becomes a top 10 pick in the NBA Draft, he's not going to face any fines. The Big 12's not going to suspend him as long as his flops remain within the realm of "questionable," which they do. He's not faking injuries or falling to the ground with no one in his vicinity.
"We don't condone flopping or anything like that, but the Big 12 is a physical basketball league and we have big guards and sometimes people think it looks like flopping," Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said Monday. "That's everybody's opinion. Everybody's got one, but it's not something we practice or condone."
Thing is, the "Smart is flopping" idea is based a lot more in fact than in opinion.
As the microscope on Smart's game has intensified during a hyped sophomore season, so has his reputation as one of college basketball's worst offenders. ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla called Smart out on his habit after a flop late in a win over Colorado.
Smart also unleashed this disgrace in the corner of Bramlage Coliseum in a loss to K-State that prompted Wildcats fans to kick off a "He's a flopper" chant.
The Kansas City Star even had some fun at Smart's expense on the front page of its sports section after Saturday's KU win.
Kansas fans have now turned a recent "LeBroning" fad into mimicking Marcus Smart, and the result is high comedy.
Smart is too good for this.
Is this who he wants to be? Smart's making it mighty hard for some to respect him, and brought almost all of the vitriol and mockery upon himself.
Guys like Vlade Divac, Anderson Varejao and JJ Barea spent their nights matching up with bigger players and didn't have the talent relative to opponents that Smart possesses. Guys like that perfected the art of the flop and doing so was required for survival in the NBA.
For Smart, it only serves to distract from his otherwordly talent. That makes me more sad than angry.
"I don't think any coach would be a big fan of it. I've had some players in the past that were pretty good at doing that, and we've coached against some players who were pretty good with it, but I don't think it's good for our game at all, and I think it makes it that much harder for officials to actually call the game," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "There's a difference between flopping and being able to sell a foul. Some guys are really good at selling fouls, which gives the appearance of selling fouls. To me, that's making a smart basketball play."
And that's where it get sticky.
"As long as there's competition, guys are going to probably do what they can get away with," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said.
Smart's getting away with it for now. Flopping isn't a definitive of any player's particular moral fiber or integrity. Plenty of floppers go on to become productive members of society.
"I was a great flopper back in my day," Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg confessed on Monday.
"I probably faked it or flopped quite a bit to try and get a call back when I played years ago," Self added.
There's a case to be made that Smart is only doing everything in his power to help Oklahoma State win. Any edge helps, right? Flopping can frustrate opponents, too. Getting inside an opponent's head is a rare ability and the advantages are obvious.
Smart's habit does more than infuriate the opposition, though. Flopping mucks up the game and makes life harder on guys who already face plenty of (deserved) criticism on a week-to-week basis in the Big 12.
"I don't like it. I know it's part of the game somewhat, but when it becomes a distraction for the officials, it really makes it tough on them. It puts them in a bind, because now, if somebody's flopping, they're going to miss calls. They start worrying about, is it a flop, is it not, and it puts them in a bind and they have a tough enough job as it is," Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said. "You always have guys who you're going to take a charge, I don't know if you flop, but you go down before you have contact. That kind of stuff, that's part of basketball, but if somebody's running down the court and you get a little contact and throw your body to the ground, to me, that's not basketball. If my guys would do that, I would not be too happy about it."
Hoiberg, who played with legendary flopper Reggie Miller, said Monday he coaches his players to keep their hands where officials can see them to avoid falling victim to flops and players who exaggerate contact to draw fouls.
"I think players develop reputations and hopefully they'll stop calling it," Hoiberg said. "It could cost them late in the game if they perceive it to be a flop. I think in our league, they're getting better at recognizing if a flop happens on a floor."
Reality is Smart is hurting the quality of the game, but that harm pales in comparison to what he's done to his own reputation. For now, his actions show he's willing to take on notoriety for a small edge against opponents.
Here's hoping he decides that trade is no longer worth the cost.
The sooner, the better.