The Boston Celtics went home from the 2014 NBA Draft a better basketball team, that’s not really debatable. Both Marcus Smart and James Young should immediately improve the teams perimeter play on both ends of the court. While rumors of trades involving Rajon Rondo and Kevin Love have swirled for the last couple weeks the most likely scenario was always that the Celtics would hold on to both of their picks and select who they viewed as the best players available.
That’s exactly what they did by taking Smart, the enigmatic combo guard out of Oklahoma State, at #6 overall. Here’s everything you need to know about the newest Celtic.
Age: 20 (Born March 6, 1994)
Hometown: Flower Mound, Texas (Dallas)
Height: 6′ 3.25″
Wingspan: 6′ 9″
Weight: 227 lb.
Initially, Smart’s eligibility was in question. His family moved from Lancaster (where the average home value is about $130,000), to Flower Mound (where the average home value is nearly $320,000). Nothing wrong with moving up in the world, right? But the Dallas Morning News reported that the house Smart’s family moved into was actually owned by team (and Ok. St.) boosters who happened to be the parents of Smart’s teammate Phil Forte. Not only that, but records revealed that the Smart’s were paying $800 a month on their lease despite a group of local real estate agents saying the rent for the property should’ve been somewhere between $1,100-$1,300. But the University Scholastic League ruled Smart eligible and he ended up leading Fort Mound to back-to-back state championships.
Smart and Forte were AAU teammates and good friends before the move, and besides, is their really anything wrong with a friend of the family providing assistance?
The real story with Smart is his childhood in South Dallas, a place he describes as a “war zone”. Through a slew of interviews Smart recalls being shot at before he was even a teenager, fighting someone that eventually led to Smart smashing the guys head on the pavement, and being chased with a loaded gun by a member of the local Bloods because Smart and his friends threw rocks at the guy while riding his bike. He also lost one brother to cancer at the age of twelve and almost lost another to cocaine.
“Ever see Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Just imagine him that close to you with a chainsaw, that’s how I felt. All I kept thinking was, am I going to die?” – Marcus Smart
The Smart family got out of this situation, with a little help from the Forte’s, and Marcus went on to become one of the most unique and dominant players in college basketball. But his college career didn’t come without its fair share of controversy.
Smart was the go to guy for the Cowboys as a freshman. Look at how his freshman statistics compare to the freshman numbers of some other recent large and athletic point guard prospects who had great freshman years (I threw Rajon Rondo for good measure).
Stats do tell some of the story here as the two main concerns with Smart as an NBA prospect were turnovers and shooting. Smart’s teams at Oklahoma State were never that good overall or efficient offensively. But as you can see, Smart really wasn’t that much worse in either of those categories than guys like Derrick Rose or John Wall coming out of college, two guys who went #1 and have gone on to become elite point guards (health permitting). Kyrie Irving isn’t a fair comparison because he was way more polished as a freshman than somebody like Rose, Wall, or Smart. Russell Westbrook wasn’t put on this chart because he was a pure shooting guard in college and barely played as a freshman. More on him later.
What these numbers also show is that, with the exception of Tyreke Evans, Smart was a significantly better defender and rebounder right away than the rest of the bunch. Nobody is concerned with Smart’s ability to physically compete at the next level. Another common criticism surrounding Smart is his lack of development between his freshman and sophomore seasons. He didn’t get all that much better. He didn’t improve his efficiency. He didn’t improve his shooting. But he was already one of the best players in college basketball, so there really wasn’t a ton of room for improvement at that level.
You can’t talk about Smart’s college days without bringing up the incident. One February day in Lubbock the Cowboys were on the road against Texas Tech. As he approached the baseline, a white fan reportedly called Smart the “n word” and told him to “go back to Africa”. Smart shoved the guy and got T’d up, but stayed in the game. Every analyst in the country was calling for Smart’s head, but that was before the words of the fan were revealed. It didn’t helped that Smart already had an intense demeanor and was viewed by some as a hothead. Smart was suspended three games. Here is said incident.
Personally, if a teenager who’s battled racism his whole life gets pissed and shoves an old white guy who told him to go back to Africa lightly, I don’t see a problem. Yes, Smart should have been more composed. But anyone who thinks this hurt his draft stock or says anything about him as a human being is reading too much into it. If this would’ve happened after the Donald Sterling saga, would Smart have been criticized as much?
Vertical: 33″ standing, 36″ max
Bench Press: 18 reps at 185 pounds
Lane Agility: 10.82 seconds
3/4 Court Sprint: 3.62 seconds
Those are all impressive numbers that puts Smart amongst the elite backcourt athletes in the NBA. His lane agility time, which measures lateral quickness, was actually better than the times Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, John Wall, and Chris Paul put up at their combines. Doing 18 reps at 185 is just ridiculous for a guard and proves Smart’s sheer strength. His body fat is over 10%, so he could even get more muscular with an NBA workout regime. 36″ is a nice vertical though Smart is clearly not a Rose-Westbrook level vertical athlete.
Smart appears to be as physically impressive as advertised. What’s most important is that he’s not just a raw athlete. He channels his quickness and strength into his play. Whereas a prospect like Zach LaVine or Dante Exum may have more untapped potential, Smart understands better than both those guys how to use what he has on a basketball court. He’s one of the most NBA-ready rookies.
The stat geeks love Smart. In fact, ESPN analytics guru Kevin Pelton projects Smart averaging a 3.6 WARP (Wins above replacement player) over his first five seasons. That’s his highest projection for anyone in the rookie class. Now those are just statistical projections, but the basis for them is solid.
Players comparable to Smart, who have high steal and rebound rates, tend to show no issues adjusting to the NBA game. In fact, Smart thrives in the open floor so you could argue that the larger court in the NBA will be a major benefit to his game. Smart also managed to play at his best against elite college competition, another indicator of NBA success. Just use the internet, Marcus Smart is a stat geeks dream. He had a career 89.1 defensive rating in college and added 5.4 wins to his teams from defense alone. His 29.2% Usage Rate and 30.1% Assist Rate are extremely impressive as well and prove that Oklahoma State ran everything through Smart.
How He Fits:
I’d like to let it be known that I feel this pick has nothing to do with Rajon Rondo. The Celtics, a rebuilding team, were going to picket the best player on their board regardless of position. Improvement is needed everywhere. They thought that player was Smart. It’s not like Smart can’t put in time at the two anyway. In fact, I think this says a lot more about Avery Bradley‘s future with the Celtics than anything. Smart will have to improve his shooting in order to be an actual compliment to Rondo moving forward. He doesn’t have to become Ray Allen, just becoming and even average shooter should put him in a few All-Star games. John Wall, Derrick Rose, and Russell Westbrook all greatly improved their shooting. Why can’t Smart?
Avery Bradley, a restricted free agent who could command as much as $7 million a year due to his tenacious defense, is likely gone. Not only is Smart a serviceable replacement, he should be an upgrade immediately. It’s hard to envision a scenario where Smart is not starting opening night for the Green. He came to Boston for three workouts and Brad Stevens can’t stop raving about him. He will be one of the three or four best players on the team from the get-go and will likely be guarding the best opposing guard every night. Smart will be thrown into the fire right away, and every number indicates he’s ready to handle it.
I still think Noah Vonleh would’ve been a nice pick. But the Celtics are excited about Smart joining the squad. You should be too.