“It's a story because it's part of a larger narrative with him in that he's not playing well,” SI.com's Seth Davis said this week.
There's that, too. And it's not so much that Smart isn't playing well overall, as it is he's playing differently than when he dominated games a year ago. Before, he didn't care if he scored, focused instead on making everyone around him better. And when he did score, it was usually around the basket or at the foul line.
Now, after working on improving his perimeter game in the offseason, Smart's shot selection has become questionable. He's fired up 117 attempts from 3-point range, after trying 131 all last season. And he's rarely connecting, making 28.2 percent — 22 percent in Big 12 play. Over the past five games, four of those losses, Smart is 4-of-33 from long distance.
“And you hurt for the kid, because he's a super kid,” Davis said. “And he wants it so badly — you can see how badly he wants it. And it's messing with his mind.
“He's taking bad shots. He's forcing things. He's losing his composure.”
Ford says that Smart isn't being selfish, yet perhaps stubborn in his competitive push to lead this team, especially now that the team's identity is in transition with the injured Cobbins lost for the season.
“Sometimes you've just got to get back to the basics,” Ford said. “I think Marcus understands it. I don't think you can ever play too hard or try too hard. It's just always got to be channeled in the right way.”
Beyond shot selection, Smart's stat line still reads strong. He leads the Big 12 in steals (2.3) and ranks fourth in scoring (17.3), seventh in assists (4.4) and is averaging 5.7 rebounds.
Smart continues to impact games, playing hard at all times, especially as a dogged defender.
Still, he recognizes he can be better, whether in letting the flow of the game come to him on the offensive end or in fighting off frustrations created by other teams' tactics or a perceived lack of calls from officials.
“Sometimes, you have to take ‘I' out of the picture,” Smart said. “This is a team sport. If I'm not my best, how can my team be its best? I'm supposed to be one of the captains on the team. And I'm not at my best every day.
“And I hold myself accountable.”