As we do every year, we’re wrapping up the Mizzou basketball season with Q&As on every one of Missouri’s major contributors. To catch up on our first few posts in this series, see the link below:
Today, we’re diving into the story of Mark Smith, Missouri’s sharp-shooting combo guard who continued to battle injuries in his junior season.
After another injury-riddled campaign and some streaky stretches, Mark Smith seems to have earned a reputation (with some) as a valuable but not quite integral part of Cuonzo Martin’s team. Is this fair to Smith, or are these people missing something?
Sam Snelling, Site Manager: I think Mark Smith has been difficult to peg down. I don’t think you can question his value on the defensive end at this point. We’ve looked at his steadiness and Cuonzo Martin’s trust in him and it’s been proven. But Smith has never completely set himself out offensively aside from being a spot up shooter, and even that took a dip this past season. Mark is capable, but they need him to be more consistent shooting the ball, and better finishing at the rim. He’s a lot like Tilmon is that he’s good enough to help Missouri take another step forward, but he just has to be healthy and consistent.
Matt Harris, Lead Basketball Writer: Defensively, he’s proved his worth. But I get why some might question Smith’s value. Last season, he only shot 29.4 percent from behind the arc against Tier A and B teams in KenPom, and given how reliant his game is drilling spot-ups, it means he made little dent in games that matter. How much of that was due to the 3-point arc moving back? Can you chalk some of it up to rust? Some, but not all. Combine that inconsistency with his injury history, and you’re left talking about what Smith could be for this roster.
Josh Matejka, Deputy Manager: Obviously labeling someone as, “integral,” is up to subjective mind — but there’s also no ignoring that Mark Smith makes Missouri a better team, especially when he’s playing well (duh.) As one of the team’s better athletes, Smith is often assigned some of the tougher defensive assignments, and the tandem of he and Dru Smith in the backcourt gives Missouri a fierce defensive pair.
What most people will focus on with Smith, though, is his offense. Yes, he’s streaky and tends to not perform as well against better competition. But perhaps he’s not meant to be the go-to guy every night? In his first season as a Tiger, Smith often shared the scoring load with Jordan Geist. In 2019-2020, he didn’t have that luxury, and was often the focal point of the defense. So while his offense suffered this season, it’s still unfair to deny his importance to the team.
Ryan Herrera, Lead Basketball Beat Writer: Mark is actually a very capable defender, which I don’t know he’s ever given enough credit for. Prior to his injury, he was guarding most opponents’ top perimeter players. He’s proven his worth defensively. However, his offensive game is where he’s taken the brunt of the criticism anyway. He wasn’t as efficient this season as the year prior and he hasn’t shown if he can be a real threat to drive the ball. Without his 3-pointer falling like Missouri would like, he moved more into the background offensively. Still, a consistent Smith undoubtedly makes this team better, so I don’t think it’s fair to say he isn’t an integral part of this team.
Many of Smith’s numbers improved across the board, but the junior saw a steep drop in his shooting efficiency. Is it reasonable to expect Smith to shoot ~40 percent from deep again?
Sam Snelling: I’m not sure they need him to be at or above 40%. For Smith it was more about consistency. He hit one or zero 3s in 10 of the 24 games he played in, as a sophomore there were just three of those games out of 19. For a team so desperately in need of three-point shooting (the Tigers lost five of those 10 games) having your best shooter be a non-issue just isn’t sustainable. Not having a consistent deep threat forces the offense into a lot of offensive lulls. So your best shooter has to come through, and last year Smith just didn’t come through. But if he’s healthy next year, I’d take the odds on him returning to form.
Matt Harris: Going into last season, I didn’t think Smith’s 3-point shooting would clear that bar. And on balance, shooting 37.1 percent is still a solid clip. But there were a lot of empty calories. His best outings came against Northern Kentucky, Wofford and Southern Illinois. And while he went 4 of 8 against Oklahoma, several of those came well after the Sooners had the game in hand. Outside of those four games, he was only a 30 percent shooter. Missouri’s offense doesn’t need Smith to carry the load, but its success hinges on him consistently hitting spot-ups to ward off defenses shrinking the floor. Assuming he’s healthy, I think he might smooth out the distribution of makes next season.
Josh Matejka: Like I said above, I think it depends on how he’s being used in the offense. Is he the primary scoring threat, or is there someone else who draws the attention of the defense? Smith performs well as a spot-up shooter, but he needs more people to distract the opposing teams and give him opportunities to get open. I’d love to see what he can do with a Justin Turner type player on the team. If Missouri can find a primary scorer on the grad transfer market, I think there’s a good chance Smith’s efficiency numbers will rebound.
Ryan Herrera: If he can’t hit the 40% mark, high 30s would still be more than sufficient IF he makes them on a consistent basis from game to game. He has to be a guy Missouri can count on to make at least 2-3 triples per game and to keep that consistency when conference play comes around. In the first six SEC games he played, he made at least two in all of them. In the last five, he only did that once. He doesn’t have to be the primary scorer when guys like Dru Smith and Xavier Pinson can go and get their own buckets, but he’s got to be the reliable shooter he showed he could be two seasons ago.
Other than staying healthy, how does Smith better himself for his final year in black-and-gold?
Sam Snelling: We kinda touched on it above, but I’d just love for him to find the consistent shooting he had in his sophomore year. The Tigers as a team were really inconsistent and Smith was a key part of that. He’s sound defensively, takes care of the ball well and rebounds. He just needs to shoot the ball with a little more consistency and confidence and I think we’ll see why Smith was and is so valuable to this program.
Matt Harris: Stay healthy, find consistency shooting and remain a lock-down defender. He could improve as a finisher around the rim, but Smith’s game as a driver typically relies on brawn. Go back and watch film of him at Edwardsville, and he just overwhelmed defenders with his size and strength when attacking the paint. That approach doesn’t always translate so smoothly at the collegiate level. That said, there were some situations last season could catch, rip and go. Adding a little diversity to his shot selection would help on nights where his jumper isn’t hitting early.
Josh Matejka: Smith saw a slight dip in his defensive rebounding rate and a bigger one in assist rate this season, so he could obviously bring those back up. More than anything, though, I’d like to see Smith get more comfortable attacking the rim. He’s big enough to draw fouls, and he’s a good enough shooter to be knocking down 75 to 80 percent of his free throws. For whatever reason, Smith has never been much of a driving threat, but that seems counter to his size and athleticism. If he can diversify his offensive game in his senior season, I think there’s a chance he could get some All-SEC love.
Ryan Herrera: I think Smith’s game could really improve if he becomes more of a threat around the rim. I said above that he hasn’t proven to be a driving threat, and his first step might not be quick enough to blow by most defenders, but he’s got the strength to drive through many of them. If he can find a way to get to the rim more often and either draw fouls (he’s a fairly reliable free throw shooter) or finish consistently in traffic, that be a huge improvement for his game.