Kobe Bryant’s competitiveness is the stuff of legends. It doesn’t matter if he’s in crutches or in a wheelchair, he’ll want to play in an NBA game and find clever ways to win. Phil Jackson believed that you win with men. Kobe Bryant carries the same mentality. He had the utmost respect for Derek Fisher. There is similar respect for Jodie Meeks, who works his tail off, and approaches every game with the same level of energy and intensity on a night-to-night basis. Matt Barnes? He’s the guy who tried to show up Bryant while he was in an Orlando Magic uniform, and ended up a Laker. Metta World Peace won a championship alongside Bryant. Kobe treats Pau Gasol like his little brother, always wanting him to come out more aggressive and “unleash the beast.” After all, they won two championships together.
These are the men that Bryant chooses to go to war with. Players coming into a new franchise isn’t easy. It isn’t just the talent that needs to be displayed on the floor. It’s the respect of the peers, coaches, management that needs to be earned. That is usually done with hard work off-the-floor, constantly working on one’s game, and bringing a mature attitude while understanding everyone’s role on the team.
In the draft, there is one player who specifically stands out. His name is Marcus Smart. Other players, such as Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood have more mature skill sets as well. They seem to be the players that will have great rookie impact. Guys like Wiggins, Exum, Embiid, Gordon, and others are all young and in development on-and-off the floor. However, Smart, despite his young age at age 20, not only shows a maturity for self-development, but an unnatural intensity on the floor and the continuous desire to win games. All three players have shown work ethic throughout their basketball careers, so refined skill set shouldn’t be a surprise.
What got me sold on Marcus Smart? Before, I was skeptical when I did a player comparison to Tyler Ennis. I appreciate Ennis’s natural playmaking abilities and patience on the floor. Smart seemed to force the issue. The real tell of a player is how they handle adversity and come back from it. This told me a lot.
This makes it obvious to me, he watched game tape while he was out. He didn’t let his competitiveness get to him, in terms of wanting to take control by himself. Kobe Bryant had this issue early in his career, and it was difficult for him to let go of the idea until Phil Jackson arrived. Instead, Smart stopped forcing shots over defenders. He was more patient on his drives. He set up his teammates more often. He needed to pull up from midrange in the paint. This was most evident against his game against Kansas, found here. The result, is an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3:1, instead of his season average of 1.75:1. His true shot percentage is now 60%, which isn’t reflective of his 43% from the field and 30% behind the arc. He played great, fundamental basketball.
More importantly, he handed his situation with the fan from Texas Tech well. He took responsibility for his own mistakes; his own emotion taking over his conduct. He worked on his game, and continues to be a great leader to his teammates. He was a captain of the FIBA U19 USA team as well. More important than his talent, is the man himself. Imagine Derek Fisher leadership-like abilities with the intensity of Metta World Peace on the defensive end, in addition to Kobe’s competitive spirit. That is who Marcus Smart is as a person, and it’s greater than his talent.