The NBA is now offically in the dog days. It should be any time now before the pointless arguments of “Larry Bird vs. Lebron James” becomes the talk of the day, and fans eventually talk themselves into believing that their teams best case scenario is also the teams most likley scenario. In order to fill this void, I’ll be writing a bunch of series talking about a range of different topics. To start, I’ll be doing a profile on five players that are primed to take the leap to potential all-stars. Today is Boston guard Marcus Smart.
Smart is one of the more polarizing young players. Critics have pointed to his horrendous shooting and lack of real offensive dominance as logic to suggest that he’s no more than a defensive specialist. Others see his impressive measureables, the positive impact he makes on the game despite clear weaknesses, and see a guy that has a chance to be a star if he could just get his shot right. Let’s get into what we’ve seen in his first two years in the NBA.
On the defensive end, Smart came as strong as advertised, and it’s been his main reason for staying in the rotation. Smart ranks 7th in defensive plus-minus, and it’s apparent that no matter what else happens in his development, his defense will be what stands him apart. Smart has an uncanny ability to breeze through screens that most guards get lost in, and has the lateral quickness plus length to handle bigger or quicker players. His defensive instincts show up even more in his ability to rebound, take charges, and guard all types of players.During the season Smart was used to guard the likes of 7’1 Kristapas Porzingis, Paul Millisap, Kevin Durant, Paul George, Kyle Lowry, and held his ground well depite the versatile appetite of opponenets.
The real mystery comes on the offensive end. Smart came into the league as a non-shooter who belived he could shoot, and was not afriad to put them up. His first season was encouraging, he didn’t shoot the lights out, but a 33.5% three point percentage was a lot better than most folks expected. Last season however, his percentage came crashing down, though his attempts didn’t. Smart shot 25.3% from three, and was taking four attempts per game. Even worse, of those four attempts, about 3.1 were either open or wide open– he shot those at 26.3%.
Though Smart took a substantial drop from three last season, there is some interesting information that could point to a 2016-17 season. Now that forward Evan Turner has signed elsewhere, not only will Smart be expected to handle the ball a lot more, but he’ll actualy have the ball enough in his hands to take the shots he’s most comfortable with. Last season, Smart took and missed most of his attempts from a catch and shoot variety. He shot a staggering 22.2% from three on catch and shoots, and a 30.8% on two’s. On limited attempts via pull-ups he shot 35.2% from three and 39.3% from two’s. This was not the case his rookie year in which he shot 25.7% on pull-up three’s, and 29.8% on two’s.
What does all of that mean?
Well two things. One, Smart is a lot more comfortable with the ball in his hands where he can shot in rhytmn.
Because Smart is still being developed as a point guard, it makes sense that he’ll feel most comfortable shooting with the ball in his hands rather than standing in a corner, something he was often relegated to since he was regualry paired with Evan Turner. No more Turner could lead to more pull-up attempts for Smart, which sounds counter-intuitive to what analytics say, but from a basketball standpoint makes some sense. (Still I think Smart could stand to improve on his catch and shoot abilities. One way to get in rhytmn would be to take those attempts using the “1-2” or the “Hop” as a way to build a rhytmn instead of just shooting from a standstill position.)
To be fair, Smart did have very low attempts via pull-up’s. To be exact 2.7 combined attempts per game 0r 31% of his shot attempts. It could simply be that his numbers are inflated due to low attempts, but other improvements in his game add an extra layer of smoke to the theory. Which brings us to our next point.
Smart showed some great improvement in other areas of his ball handling. He’s become a more aggressive pick and roll ball-handler, showing a stronger ability to probe the defense, and make solid reads.
Smart’s turnover percentage dipped from 14.4% to 11.7% despite his usage raising. Smart has also been able to get to the rim more, taking 82 more attempts at the rim than his rookie season, and raising his free throw percentage from 64.6% to 77.7%. The increased comfortability with the basketball paints a picture of a player who could vastly improve from being given the ball in his hands on a more consistent basis. The increase in free throw ability is a strong indicator to three point success, and though his assist percentage actually dropped, it was clear that Smart was more comfortable running the offense when given the chance.
The departure of Evan Turner could pave that opportunity for Smart. The 22 year old was allowed to slowly be eased in to the point guard position, (one he hadn’t been asked to play until college) while getting rotation minutes on a winning team. Now in year three, and off two playoff apperances, the former 6th pick will be looking to showcase his newfound feel for the position. Of course, the shooting will need to improve, and for the first time Smart admitted such at his camp this June.
Expectations will be high for Smart and the Celtics. The team expects to be in the conversation as a top challenger to the Cavaliers, and a huge year for Smart could allow the Celtics to create elite defensive lineups without losing the ability to score. It’ll be a huge year for Smart, and with the opportunity to run the offense a lot more, he could be in line for a big season.