Rob is an NBA CBA savant, East-coast hoops expert, certified sneakerhead and contributor to The Five by 5.
With the trade deadline approaching quickly, news has leaked out of Boston that the Celtics are actively looking to acquire a first round pick for Marcus Smart, the former 6th overall pick in the 2014 draft class. Smart is as a unique of a talent to evaluate in todays league as any. On one hand he undoubtedly makes winning plays on a night to night basis, but on the other hand, how does a 6’4” combo guard, who is shooting 31% on all 3 point attempts, fit in today’s outside shooting oriented NBA? As someone who watches every Celtic game with great detail, Here’s my most honest breakdown of Marcus Smart:
Defensively is where Smart really butters his bread.
Defense In The Post:
Smart is uniquely strong for a player of his stature (6’4” weighing 220 lbs via: www.basketballreference.com). This makes him highly switchable as a defender as his strength allows him to guard players much larger than he is. This ability to switch from perimeter defender to low-post defender is something that we all know to be very valuable in the league as many teams prefer to switch 1-5 whenever possible. Brad Stevens (the head coach of the Celtics) regularly allows Smart to get switched onto 7’ footers. When this happens, Stevens often opts to not send a help defender to aide Smart against the big, even though sending help is usually the default when guards get switched onto big men.
In the clip below (go to the 42 second mark), you'll see Smart getting switched on to Kristaps Porzingis (who is 7’3”). Granted, the play didn't end with KP taking the shot, but it shows you his ability to play with leverage and guard in the post. Smart even denies the 7 footer the opportunity to get the rebound. Plays like that one are not that uncommon for Smart, I see it probably 2-3 times a game. And that ability alone is worth its weight in gold when constructing a great team defense as it allows the defense to flow more organically without others sprinting out of position to help.
This particular part of Smarts’ game is what I would grade as his highest. Team defense can be defined as how you help your teams’ defense when your man doesn't have the ball. Smart, who is supper intelligent with this aspect of the game, seems to only gamble for steals, charges, etc. at the right times. I can’t quantify this aspect in one clip, as you would have to watch hundreds of minutes of film to really understand how effective he is, but the clip below (go to the 2:08 mark) shows you a small instance of what I’m talking about.
Notice in the clip how he knows he is going for the tie up, but baits Gasol into thinking he isn't coming. Once Gasol puts his head down to dribble, Smart is already there. In addition to knowing when to take a gamble or provide help defense, Smart also does a lot of things with his body that are very subtle but make big differences on defense. He constantly throws his body around in ways that disrupt a teams flow of the offense. Examples of this include: using subtle hip checks when a ball handler goes by a screen that was set by Smarts man, and even grabbing players uniforms when he knows the referees don't have an advantageous angle to notice it (and yes, of course, strategically flopping at times).
On Ball Defense:
Smarts’ on ball defense is also quite good as he has the ability to handle some of the quicker guards in the league. How he does this, without having the quickest foot work, is pretty unique. The key for Smart while defending on ball is that he communicates like crazy and competes like hell. Few players play with the tenacity and mind-set of a Marcus Smart, and to me, that’s what sets him apart and makes him so good. Much like a Draymond Green in Golden State, Smart is genuinely pissed off each night thinking that the man he is defending thinks he has a chance to score against him. With the vigorous of an NBA schedule, and even within a game, it really gives Smart an advantage.
In this clip, you will see John Wall (a nuclear athlete by NBA standards) blow by Smart, but even though Smart is beaten, he never quits and works hard to recover and gets the block on Wall. Few players in the league would still try to recover after being beat by the likes of John Wall, but Smart does.
This is the most limiting part of Smarts’ game by far. For his career, he’s a 41% shooter from 2, and 29% from 3 (via: basketballrefernce.com). The warts don't end on his shooting either (via: cleaningtheglass.com), Smart ranks in the 85th percentile in all shots being assisted. So what? That means when his shot does go in, it’s almost always because someone else creating it for him, meaning he has almost no self-creation equity (which is a highly important skill for NBA guards). Additionally, despite his low 3 point percentage, he still takes an average of 5.2 threes per 36 minutes. That’s awfully high for a player that is 6% below league average (36.1%) from 3 this year.
He is a good passer in my eyes, but for sure not a great one by any means, and come playoff time? We know shooting is way more valuable than passing as floor spacing is everything. Additionally, his 16.6% turnover percentage is in the 5th worst percentile among wings per celaningtheglass.com. For Smart to effectively lead a contending teams second unit, he would have to get to at the least league average shooting percentage from 3, and do so while taking care of the ball. Despite being a 75% career free throw shooter (a stat that can occasionally show potential for shooting improvement), I don’t think we can look at that when projecting his potential for future shooting improvement.
What’s The Market:
Everyone is fretting and trying to figure out if he is worth a first round pick. In my eyes, if you have late first round pick (pick 20-30) and you draft a player the caliber of Marcus Smart there… are you mad? No, that’d be a great pick. The argument can be made that you have to pay him this summer, but seeing how tight the market will be, you might even be able to get him on a value contract.
A team like Denver has been linked to him, which would be a great fit for both player and team. He is a restricted free agent at the end of the year, and any team trading for him would have his restrictive rights (meaning they can match any contract offer he receives, therefore keeping him under club control for the life of the contract).
Marcus Smart is a winning basketball player that really helped a Celtic team make a deep playoff run in the East. Overall, Smart is a top 10 switchable defender among wings and guards in this league, and can come off the bench and help a playoff team (even his own current team). Do you need to hide him with shooters on offense? Sure, but he is still a net positive player by all metrics.
Honestly? If I'm Boston, I keep him. And if I’m another team? I'm worried about acquiring him. Boston should keep him because he fits so well into what they do, and as their roster gets more expensive, it will be harder and harder for them to get useful rotation players like Smart on manageable contracts. If I'm trying to acquire him, I'm really worried about the recent trend of guys leaving Boston and not being nearly as successful without the system that Brad Stevens has installed. A top 24 protected pick, followed by top 26, then converting to two second round picks, or something along those lines is something that I could see happening if a trade even happens at all.
The league (in my opinion) values late first round picks too much. Yes, you can get a Kyle Kuzma or Rudy Gobert there, but for every guy like that there are 10 or more guys that don't ever contribute in the league, or are just average NBA rotational player's (not counting contending rotational players as that’s something entirely different). Players Peak in the NBA around season 7, so I went back to look at the picks in that area 7 years ago. That was the loaded 2011 draft class. Look at picks 20-30 (). In that scenario (again all time draft class), Smart by my evaluation is the 4th best player of that group.
If you go back one more year (guys typically around age 27 this season) the list looks like this. Smart would be the best player from that group by far.
So, is Marcus Smart worth a first? That’s for a team looking to acquiring him to decide, but if you think it's an automatic that you’re drafting a guy better than him in that range? You probably aren’t.
Marcus Smart: Bleacher Report
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