The Boston Celtics are off to a hot 7-3 start to the season, and there’s a lot to be excited about. Not only is their record nice, but Tatum and Brown are playing like one of the best duos in the NBA. Also, Payton Pritchard looks like one of the steals of the draft, and it sounds like Kemba Walker will be back fairly soon. With that being said, it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. The Celtics just suffered a COVID-19 outbreak that wiped nearly half the roster out. They can’t figure out the right formula for a successful frontcourt, and it still feels like the Celtics are one move away from being serious title contenders. However, I’m not here to talk about any of those positives or negatives. Instead, I’m here to talk about Marcus Smart, who has brought a combination of positives and negatives to the table for the past few seasons. I want to shed some light on how Marcus Smart has continued to prove he’s a quintessential example of a double-edged sword for this Boston Celtics team.
The Good: Defense, Effort & Hustle
Let me start off with Smart’s best traits, because I think they all tie in: defense, effort, and hustle. Marcus Smart is regarded as one of the best defensive guards in the NBA, and rightfully so. He’s got very solid fundamentals, a non-stop motor, and a great deal of strength that gives him more defensive versatility than almost any other guard in the NBA. Smart makes plenty of winning plays on this end of the court, including momentum swinging steals, blocks, drawn fouls, and defensive stances. He nevers stops playing hard. Even in preseason games, you’ll see him diving for loose balls and attempting to box out guys that have got a foot on him. This package of traits is what Smart is built off of, and it’s produced plenty of game-winning plays for the Celtics.
The Good: Playmaking
An underrated trait of Smart’s is his playmaking ability. I don’t love him running the offense, mainly due to his poor decision making, but I like him as a passer. He makes some poor passes from time to time, but the guy only averages 1.7 turnovers per game in his career compared to 4.1 assists per game. To do you one better, he’s averaging a career high 6.6 assists per game this season on just 1.6 turnovers a game. Not to shabby. Again, Smart’s not a guy you want running your offense as he makes a lot of boneheaded decisions and he’s not much of a shot creator, but in a secondary-initiator type role, Smart does well. In terms of his passing, he does a lot more good than he does bad.
The Bad: A Streaky Shooting With Terrible Shot Selection & Poor Overall Decision-Making
Marcus Smart is a career 32% three point shooter on an average of 4.2 threes per game. He’s also a 37% shooter from the field on an average of 8.8 shots per night over his career. Now it would be harsh of me to hold these numbers against the current player Smart is, especially from three. He’s become a better shooter over the years, even on more attempts. These numbers are a bit low (again, especially from three), for Smart’s scoring efficiency numbers, but I would also be doing a disservice if I chose his stats from solely one season. Smart may have improved, but he’s still very streaky. His scoring efficiency numbers aren’t completely out of whack, but they are up and down. All in all, Smart’s not a very efficient scorer. As a three point shooter, he’s as streaky as it gets. He’ll have stretches where he catches fire, and he has stretches where he’s ice cold from deep. And as a finisher, Smart needs to be better. For a guy that takes around ten shots a night and has as much strength as he does, he should be utilizing it underneath the basket and finishing at a more efficient rate. Smart’s shot selection is awful. Plenty of wasted possessions where he chucks up a contested three with plenty of time on the shot clock. I can’t tell you how many close games have slipped through the Celtics fingers because of this, and it’s killer. For all the momentum swinging plays he makes on defense, he basically neglects those with momentum killing shots.
The Bad: The Celtics Organization Has Enabled Him To A Greater Standard Than He Is Truly At
Marcus Smart plays with confidence, and I have no doubt in my mind that part of his game comes with poor shot selection and there’s not much you can do about it. And yes, I know it’s a players league, but this never should’ve gotten to this extent. Constantly praising him for the good he does, allowing him to take ridiculous shots without any backlash, throwing him into a team leader role, and he’s even referred to as part of “The big three” with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Now, some of this is justified to an extent. Smart does deserve some praise for the good he does, and he should also be considered a team leader. With that being said, where’s the balance? When can we realize the line has been crossed? For all the good he brings to the table, he brings nearly as much bad. I know it’s a players league, but the fact that Smart can continue to fire away all these awful shots with no backlash, it’s ludicrous. That should not slide. But, since Smart does have the green light to do whatever he desires, his confidence is only increasing, and based off of this and how highly people speak of him inside the organization, he views himself as a core piece and a much better player than he truly is. For some players, this isn’t much of an issue, but with a guy like Smart, it helps the team in some ways, but hurts them in a lot of others. And as a leader, he’s all-in-all a good one, but he shouldn’t be relied on as heavily as the Celtics seem to. Sometimes he lets his emotions get to him, like when he was throwing chairs across the locker room last season. He’s also not this ultimate team player like everyone thinks he is. Exhibit A was a couple games ago against the Miami Heat.
Tie game at 105, Tatum gave the ball to Smart off a pick and roll with seven seconds left. He then took it to the hole against Duncan Robinson, and you knew a shot was about to go up. I wasn’t happy Marcus Smart out of all guys had the ball in this situation, but at least he had a mismatch strength wise with Duncan Robinson. But, he didn’t utilize that strength mismatch. Smart went up soft, missed, but then rookie Payton Pritchard came in, grabbed the rebound, and put it up for the game winner. Marcus Smart was on the ground as he watched the ball go in, and as soon as Pritchard’s layup fell, him and the rest of the team were happy, but Smart was not. He popped up and started arguing with the ref for not calling a foul on his missed layup. Then, the Celtics went back in the huddle and prepared for the last possession of the game. Up by two, the Heat were inbounding the ball with .2 seconds left. Heat don’t get a shot off, Celtics win the game. However, by the way Marcus Smart was acting, you wouldn’t think it. As soon as the play was over, boom, he’s back at it with the no-call. Instead of celebrating with his teammates, he’s arguing with the ref over something that doesn’t matter anymore. That is if you’re a true team player. Not only does this show that Smart isn’t the true team player everyone thinks, but he easily could’ve gotten a technical foul for that, which would’ve put the Celtics win in jeopardy. I’m not trying today Marcus Smart doesn’t deserve a leadership role, or that he’s a bad team player, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. Smart has basically been thrown into a captain like role for the Celtics as he’s the longest tenured player on the team and a guy with infectious energy. Again, good team player, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
I can speak for a lot of Celtics fans in saying that Marcus Smart puts our thoughts on him for a roller coaster each and every night. You love him one minute when he makes those game-saving defense plays, or when his three ball is red hot, and you hate him the next when he’s flopping on the ground and chucking up terrible looks from three. Marcus Smart’s impact can be great in one quarter, and then terrible in the next. He’s a double-edged sword. Now, I don’t want my words to be twisted. I’m not saying Smart’s a bad leader, but rather a bit of an overrated one. And I’m not saying confidence is a bad thing, but an overconfident Marcus Smart on the offensive end with the green light to do whatever the hell he wants is. Smart’s overall impact isn’t very impressive if you ask me, and I don’t think his impact is as grand as many people think. At this point, I’m getting sick of him putting me on a roller coaster each night he plays. It’s frustrating at this point. He’s not a must trade, but man if we can get a decent return for him in a trade offer, I’m pulling the trigger. Marcus Smart is a double-edged sword, and I’m not sure that will ever change.