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Missouri Hoops Player Review: Mark Smith

The Illinois transfer was everything Missouri could’ve asked for before his injury, contributing on both ends of the floor.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Friday! We’re wrapping up week one of our postseason player reviews by taking a look at Missouri’s best two-way player for much of the year: Mark Smith.

To catch up on the rest of our player reviews, see the links below:

Mark Smith - Regular Stats

19 28.4 11.4 5.2 1.6 41.1 45.0 77.4

Mark Smith - Advanced Stats*

%MIN ORTG Adj GMSC POSS% Lineup O +/- Lineup D +/- eFG% TS%
%MIN ORTG Adj GMSC POSS% Lineup O +/- Lineup D +/- eFG% TS%
41.8 117.4 12.6 18.8 1.01 (0.0) 0.93 (+0.12) 58.5 60.4

The Illinois transfer was everything Missouri could have hoped for, contributing heavily on both ends of the floor. Why did Smith improve so drastically in his move west?

Sam Snelling, Site Manager: I think what most players and even some coaches don’t account for enough in the recruiting game is fit. You always want the best players you can find, but finding good players who fit is just as important. When Mizzou hired Cuonzo Martin, they got a coach who came in with a plan for a specific system and style of play he wanted to run. Mark Smith is a very good fit for the Martin system. He looks at home playing under control defensively, and working side ball screens and spot ups in the the Mizzou offense.

I think it’s also fair to point out that Smith never seemed to recover from a mid-season illness that depleted his energy in Champaign. So when you couple that with a rocky relationship with the coaching staff, I think it’s safe to say a change of scenery and being happier all contributed to his improved play.

Matt Harris, Basketball Editor: Fit matters. When Smith pledged to Illinois, the decision was rooted in his affinity for Illinois as a school moreso than Brad Underwood. While I’m a fan of what Underwood runs offensively, it didn’t really mesh with Smith’s strengths. Toss in a mid-season illness and injury, and you can see why the Edwardsville native needed a reset.

Within the structure of MU’s offense, Smith wasn’t having to make as many read-and-react decisions. He could space to a wing, run off split cuts on the weak side of the floor and so on. Comfort matters in the sense that Smith could get shots in conditions and at places on the floor that suit him well. Now, I don’t think anyone expected him to shoot 58.3 percent on spot-up jumpers, including 40 of 73 on catch-and-shoot looks in the half court.

Knocking down those shots enables him to use his strength when getting by defenders and reaching the rim. Granted, Smith is like every other guard in that he needs to get better finishing those plays or — at the very least — earning a trip to the line. That being said, Martin’s system and Smith’s game interlock much more naturally than what he was tasked to do in Champaign.

On the defensive end, I wasn’t surprised Smith settled in quickly. He’s got the build and strength to fight through screens to go with the awareness of where he needs to be playing off the ball. That’s a change from what he was asked to do at Illinois, where Underwood envisioned him occupying more time at the point — a position that required him to match up with quicker players on the ball. The fact he proved adept at wiping off the glass is another perk.

Josh Matejka, Editor: Smith’s talent was evident out of high school, and it was pretty ludicrous for so many people to write him off after a rocky freshman year with a coaching staff with which he didn’t seem to get along. Getting into a system that worked for his game was an awesome start.

However, you also have to think that his freshman year adversity probably toughened him up a little bit. Improving slightly is expected from year one to year two — turning into one of the country’s best three-point shooters in one year is a bonus. Smith clearly spent time in the offseason perfecting his shot, and let his athleticism and hard-nosed defensive mindset do the rest.

What would you like to see Smith work on during the offseason?

Sam Snelling: I’d like to see him pick up where he left off shooting the basketball and defending. The areas he was not very good at were getting to the rim, converting around the rim or getting to the line on a straight line drive. An important part of the offense and the spacing it provides is having guys who can attack and get to the rim. Smith seemed at home on the catch and shoot part of the offense, capitalizing on ball movement and kickouts. But if he can take the next step and start attacking more closeouts with frequency, — getting to the rim and converting or simply drawing a foul and getting to the line — I think some of those hard close outs he faced will slow down and then he’ll be able to put himself on some postseason lists.

Matt Harris: Sam already hit on it Smith needing to improve his efficiency as a driver. When you watch film of Smith’s time at Edwardsville, his raw strength gave him an edge against contact. At the high-major level, though, that comparative advantage is gone. On paper, Smith is at the top of the list among high-usage SEC returners in terms of efficiency, putting up 1.091 points per possession. I suspect that it will tail off a bit as his usage increases and his shooting — while still stellar — cools. Finding other ways to generate offense would be a boon, especially if he serves as a secondary ball-handler when Dru Smith or Xavier Pinson is running the point.

Josh Matejka: As good as Smith was shooting the ball, it would be excellent to see him add another dimension to his offensive game. With his size, one would think he’d be an adept slasher, getting to the rim and drawing fouls at a decent rate. However, he doesn’t seem quite comfortable in that mode. If he can develop a few respectable moves to the rim, defenders won’t be able to play him quite as tight, and he’ll turn into one of the SEC’s premiere two-way players.