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Marcus Smart Foul Trouble: Cause for Concern?

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Marcus Smart made one of the surprise decisions of the 2013 NBA draft by choosing to return to school instead of declaring for the draft and being a likely top 5 pick. He had a superb freshman year, scoring 15.8 points per game, along with 5.8 rebounds per game and 4.2 assists per game. This puts him in rarefied air, as only two other freshman have posted such stat lines since 1997, according to this College Basketball Reference Play Index.

This Draft Express Video shows he was ready to contribute at the NBA level, which is why his decision to return to Oklahoma State was somewhat shocking. There seem to be very few holes in his game that he needs to work out at the collegiate level, as demonstrated in the DX Video and shown in his stat line, as he contributes in nearly every aspect of the game.

A quick something search shows that one aspect he can work on in his sophomore season is staying out of foul trouble. It was not a major cause for concern, as he averaged only 3.3 fouls committed per 40 minutes and fouled out of only one game, but there were several games where he was limited by foul trouble and incurred four personal fouls in nine of his games.

Let’s look at five of his games and determine what types of fouls he is committing in each game, along with the evaluating the scenario in which he is picking up each foul. We will review the January 5, March 9 and March 15 Kansas State fouls, along with two U-19 tournament games, against Canada and Serbia.

Game 1: January 5 Kansas State

Foul 1: Smart picks up the foul challenging a shot at the rim. These are the types of fouls that are okay to commit, especially when it is your first foul. No concern about this foul.

Foul 2: Twenty seconds into the second half, Smart picks up his second foul immediately following a OSU bucket by holding the KSU player as he attempts to cut for the inbounds pass. This is an example of a poor foul and one that can hopefully be chalked up to a freshman mistake. OSU is leading in this game and nobody else on the team is pressing. There is no need here to pick up your second foul on this play, especially so quickly after halftime.

Foul 3: One minute later, Smart gets a charge called on him during an aggressive drive to the basket. While this could have gone either way, there isn’t much to worry about from Smart’s view with regards to this foul. He is being aggressive by driving to the rim and he was the unlucky benefactor of this call.

Overall, I would say only one of these fouls is a concern for Smart. As a one time occurrence, there wouldn’t be a big issue with this foul. As we continue though, we will see more of these silly mistakes pile up and we will begin to see why he is often in foul trouble.

Game 2: March 9 Kansas State

Foul 1: Smart picks up what I deem to be a silly foul while trying to relieve pressure after a made basket. While the KSU player sold it a bit, there was no need for Smart to extend his arms to create space. He is quick enough and strong enough that he should be able to cut to open space while holding his defender off with his body. There was no need to use his arms to create space in that scenario.

Foul 2: You could argue whether this was an intelligent foul, as Smart challenges a shot up 9 with thirty seconds left in the game, but these are the kind of fouls we would rather see Smart commit. While he could have been a bit more cognizant of the situation and not helped to extend the game, he also did not want to give up an easy layup.

Game 3: March 15 Kansas State

Foul 1: Smart picks up his first foul in the Big 12 tournament in the second half, as he commits a reach in foul 35 feet from the basket. Under most scenarios, this would be a silly foul. However, considering the time and score, with OSU down 13, Smart felt the need to be aggressive and go for the steal. Most situations would cause this to be a bad foul, but not this one.

Foul 2: This foul is similar to the first foul, as Smart is going for the steal late in the game, facing a large deficit. There isn’t really anything to argue about with this foul.

Game 3: U-19 USA vs Canada

Foul 1: I would categorize this as a silly foul and chalk it up to a lack of experience. You do not want to foul a jump shooter, especially as the first quarter is winding down. Smart will learn how to better challenge the shot so he can contest without fouling. He just needs some time to master this concept.

Foul 2: FIBA definitely calls the game much tighter than the NCAA or the NBA, so this may be a reflection of that philosophy. However, Smart should not be reaching in when he is on the ground by the three point line. He is probably going to be called for a foul no matter what happens, so he needs to show some restraint and simply get up and scramble to get back into the play.

Foul 3: Another ticky-tack foul on Smart off the ball. In a vacuum, this is not a bad foul, especially since it is only his third foul and it is in the third quarter. However, we see that many of his fouls are of this variety, which is why he sometimes finds himself on the bench in foul trouble. He needs to cut down on these fouls as he moves along, so he can maximize his minutes played.

Game 4: U-19 USA vs Serbia

Foul 1: Another bad foul while guarding the inbounds pass early in the game. USA’s defense was based on pressing and trapping in the backcourt but this is a bad foul, as the ball hasn’t been inbounded yet. This adds to the list of examples we have of bad off ball fouls.

Foul 2: This foul is not a bad foul, as Smart is being aggressive in trying to post up. He is still learning how to gain position in the post and will learn how to do so as he gets older.

Foul 3: I think this speaks again to the way FIBA officials call hand checking and grabbing more than the NCAA does. There isn’t a big complaint with this foul.


Smart played 82.2% of his team’s minutes last season, so he wasn’t severely limited by foul trouble throughout the season. However, there were some key minutes he missed due to foul trouble and he needs to limit the bad fouls he has a tendency to commit off the ball. If these fouls were simply just freshman mistakes and not do not turn into a tendency throughout his career, he will not have any issues. However, if he continues to force the referees to call fouls on him when he is making a bad play, he will lose minutes which will hurt his overall effectiveness as a player.

From this small sample of fouls he committed, it appears as though the silly fouls are more commonplace than the smart fouls, especially when taking into account the number of fouls he already has and the game situation. He needs to cut down on these as he progresses as a player. If he does, there is nothing to worry about with regards to this part of his game. If his sophomore season is riddled with more foul trouble brought on by avoidable fouls, it will be time to start be concerned about this part of his game.

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Written by Joshua Riddell

July 8, 2013 at 6:58 pm

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