An incredibly athletic guard with undeniable versatility and a win-at-all-cost mentality while sporting a considerable mean streak… sound familiar Boston? With the sixth worst record in the league (as of March 20th), Boston’s chances of landing a top five pick are rather high.
The super trio of Wiggins-Parker-Embiid are expected to go 1-2-3 (according to most mock drafts). That leaves Boston with the second-tier of players to draft. In most every other year, that would be a huge disappoint. But this isn’t most years. In that ‘second-tier’ are stars like Julius Randle, Dante Exum, Noah Vonleh, and, my favorite, Marcus Smart.
Smart is the the incredibly athletic guard with undeniable versatility and a win-at-all-cost mentality while sporting a considerable mean streak that I mentioned earlier. A sure-fire lottery pick a season ago, Smart decided to return to Oklahoma State to improve on his games weaknesses. To me, that sounds like a mature player who is dedicated to his craft and improving. A natural playmaker, Smart exceeded his assist total from freshman year despite missing four games and playing nearly 200 fewer minutes. But the most impressive bit of improvement from freshman to sophomore season? His improvement in the turnover category. An erratic ball-handler and risky passer a year ago, Smart averaged a whole turnover fewer per game this season. The true area where Smart strives offensively is as a finisher around the rim. Using his tank-sized frame (6’4, 220 lbs.) Smart excels at driving into traffic and finishing through contact.
The area that has impressed me the most in watching Marcus Smart has been his defense. A highly underrated defender, Smart prides himself on locking down the opponents best player. An opportunistic defender, Smart ranks third among all D1 players in steals per game. He had nearly the exact same amount as much-heralded defense-man Aaron Craft despite playing in five fewer games. At 6’4, 220, Smart’s size is very transferable to the NBA game. In comparison, those are the same tangibles as Dwyane Wade. But I think the best comparison for Smart would be Andre Iguodala. Both players are team-orientated, unselfish two-guards who struggle with shooting (I’ll get to that in a bit) and use their superb athleticism to dominate defensively. Iggy, who was drafted with the 9th pick in 2004, had very comparable statistics in his final college year to Smart this year. With star defensive ability and strong offensive talent, what could be wrong with Smart?
His shooting. His shooting his shooting his shooting his shooting his shooting his shooting his shooting. In returning for his sophomore season, nearly every analyst expected to see a much improved shooting display. He did improve, but not enough to silence the critics. His field goal percentage jumped from 40.4% to 42.5 % and his three point shooting improved from 29% to 30.2%. Neither of which are impressive in the slightest. As you’re reading this, you’re probably thinking “hey don’t the Celtics already have two guards that dominate defensively and struggle shooting?” Meet the magic of Ron Adams. The underrated assistant coach should be highly heralded for his work with Rajon Rondo this season. Thanks to his coaching, Rondo has already hit more threes this season then he has in any other year. While he has struggled in the last four games, his shooting improvement is quite evident. With some 1-on-1 training, Adams could transform Smart as well.
The much-overblown Shove-saga has caused some notoriety among scouting circles. Smart was suspended four games for the incident. The suspension only went to show how valuable he is. Oklahoma State was routinely beat down without their star. To me, that shows that his impact goes far beyond the hardwood. The team looks to him as a leader on the court with his unselfish play and takeover ability.
Smart’s play in the tournament will be interesting to watch. A big matchup with Gonzaga could halt their run right away. Beyond that lays Arizona. So unless your predictions are as nutty mine (I have Oklahoma State in the Final Four), March Madness probably won’t provide a very strong showing. But if he does spark a Cinderella run like I expect, his stock could soar and we could truly see what kind of leader he is.
Unless the Celtics land in position to draft one of the big three freshman, Smart should be the top name on our board. Even if the ping pong balls betray us yet again, there’s still a chance we could snag Smart as late as 8th. As long as we fully commit to the development of Olynyk and trust his potential (which I do) shoring up the second guard position should be a priority. While I love Bradley’s play, I don’t see him as the future starter. He could provide great energy off the bench or even as a big trade piece. If given the opportunity, I sure hope the Celtics wouldn’t pass on a chance to form one of the most potentially dominating backcourts in basketball.