Marcus Smart's Impact as a Guard (and Forward)

Marcus Smart is currently one of the best forwards the Celtics have, even if he primarily plays point guard.

Marcus Smart’s development has turned him into the jack-of-all-trades that the Celtics bench needed. The Celtics haven’t shown much weakness in their recent hot streak aside from the most predictable area: rebounding. While the rebounding differential against weaker opponents has been fine, Boston was still out-rebounded in their wins against the Utah Jazz (-3) and even the Miami Heat (-9). Most notably, they were outrebounded by 17 in a loss to Cleveland in December and by the same margin in Toronto last night. Jonas Valanciunas even out-rebounded the Celtics by himself (10-7) in the fourth quarter. This glaring weakness does reveal one positive, however. The Celtics as a team have improved in most aspects of the game, something I think Marcus Smart deserves a fair share of the credit.

Trying to prove Marcus Smart’s worth to the Celtics during a time where every player is dissected under the microscope of advanced statistics is an uphill battle, but a battle I’m always willing to fight. On paper, Smart is very average, but he is third on the team in plus/minus. He’s been mocked for his three-point shooting for the bulk of his young career, even though he’s shooting better than 50% from the corner this season. He’s still firing at about 27% from above the break, but the corner three is widely agreed upon as the most important shot to master. As somebody who is always caught up in narratives, it bothers me that the narrative of Marcus Smart is a negative one.

For a player that’s 6’4” and listed at point guard, he plays the game more like a stretch four than anything else. As basketball usually goes, if you can force a switch on offense through setting a pick, then you can exploit a forced mismatch by having a guard blow by a big man or by having a member of the frontcourt post up a smaller player. Working the pick and roll to create advantages is essentially the bread and butter of a basketball offense. When Marcus Smart is holding the ball, he has both the bread and butter at his fingertips whether the Celtics have forced a switch or not. In many cases, they would rather not switch anybody onto Smart, but instead of using him, they use his strength to post up another guard. This is not to say that there is no answer to Marcus Smart, rather there is no ideal match-up in terms of defending him. He’s always going to be a problem on offense, and it’s up to him to exploit that. On the defensive end, it gives you moments like this:

Per Synergy Sports Tech, Smart has scored 35 points in the post on 33 possessions, giving him an ‘excellent’ rating in that category. His 1.061 points per possession in the post makes this method of offense one of his most efficient, along with his 1.2 PPP on put-backs following an offensive rebound, which awarded him a ‘very good’ rating with Synergy.

Something I’ve been wrangling with recently is this Dan D’Antoni Rant from late December. He explains that the post up shot is the worst in basketball, and the numbers certainly support his claim.

“If you can get a layup and it’s clean — it’s not one that’s highly contested — it’s 1.8 [points per attempt]… Do you know what a post up is, with a guy standing over top of you? It’s 0.78… The last two championships have been Cleveland and Golden State. What do they do? You don’t see anybody post up. They just spread that thing out and go.”

He ends his rant by calling the post-up the worst shot in basketball, and it’s hard to disagree. Still, I like it as a part of Smart’s game, and the NBA is in the middle of a “big man resurgence” if you believe the narrative, so I think the post-up will still be perceived as a more valuable shot than, say, a mid-range jumper in today’s game.

Before the Celtics were in any conversations about contending for the Conference Finals they had one thing going for them — hustle. The contrast of the effort put forth by Rajon Rondo compared to Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley was night and day. It showed when Rondo was traded to Dallas and later replaced by Isaiah Thomas. Even though he isn't our star or even a starter, I still consider Smart, in conjunction with Bradley, to be the player to lay the foundation for what the Celtics are today. Regardless, these Celtics are fueled by doubt, and I welcome any and all criticism that pours in if it keeps my favorite basketball team motivated. 

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