The Evolution of Marcus Smart


During his rookie season, Boston Celtics point guard Marcus Smart had his fair share of struggles. Drafted sixth overall in the 2014 NBA Draft, there were high expectations set for the then 20-year old from Oklahoma State. Smart was considered one of the most “NBA ready” prospects in the draft yet he ran into quite a few obstacles throughout the season.

At the start of the year, Smart was stuck on the bench behind star point guard Rajon Rondo. Although he took the situation in stride, it certainly hurt Smart’s growth considering he couldn’t consistently see time on the court. In the middle of trying to carve out a role on the team, Smart suffered an ankle injury in November that held him out for nearly a month. Yet the rookie pushed through it all and got his first career start towards the end of December.

Once Rondo was traded, the starting point guard spot was there for the taking and Smart ran with it. Although he didn’t post impressive stats, he played reasonably well and showed a ton of promise. He was already a major presence on the defensive end but Smart needed a ton of work on offense. As a rookie, he settled for way too many jumpshots (especially three pointers) which left fans begging for him to drive to the basket more.

Smart apparently heard the claims that he wasn’t attacking the basket enough and he’s put that on display during the Utah Summer League this year. Although he only played in just two of the three games in this past week’s summer action, Smart put on an absolute show. In 27.5 minutes per game, Smart averaged 24.0 points per game, 7.5 assists per game, 4.5 rebounds per game, 2.5 steals per game and 1.0 blocks per game. Those are all eye-catching numbers but how Smart reached them make it all the more impressive.

As a rookie, Smart struggled to run the pick and roll but he flourished doing so during these two games in Utah. He especially worked well with rookie big man Jordan Mickey, who Smart found multiple times rolling to the rim or stepping out and shooting as well. Smart showed an improved understanding running the pick and roll, knowing when to attack the basket and when to make the pass. Considering the pick and roll is such a major part of the NBA’s game today, it’s a great sign for the Celtics that Smart has improved so much in such a short amount of time.

Here are a few examples of plays that showcased Smart’s new-found ability and understanding of the pick and roll, via the Celtics game against the Jazz during the Utah Summer League:

1) This is the first example where Smart gets the pick from Mickey, reads the big man moving up towards him so he throws a bounce pass to Mickey who rolls to the rim and gets an easy lay-up.

2) Here’s another impressive pick and roll play featuring Smart and Mickey. Smart gets the hand-off, reads the defense and throws a perfect no-look bounced pass to a rolling Mickey for another lay-up.

3) Lastly, here’s another pick and roll with Smart and forward Jonathan Holmes. But this time Holmes pops out for a three pointer and after drawing both defenders, Smart throws a behind the back pass with his left hand to Holmes for a three.

In terms of where Smart has improved, it wasn’t just in the pick and roll, he also showcased a new wrinkle to his game, a floater. When Smart was attacking the basket, he didn’t just barrel into contact with his head down. A couple of times he pulled up right before the basket and threw up an elegant floater with one hand.

But this isn’t just luck for Smart, he’s worked on his floater this offseason which is evident by this workout video which was posted on Twitter.

Although it’s easy to expect a 21-year old, second year player to progress in the NBA, that isn’t always the case. In fact, it’s rare to see a player much as much of a leap as Smart apparently has heading into second season in the league. Smart still has work to do, of course, and he’ll be the first one to admit it. But to see a player put in the necessary work to get better and then see the results put on display, that’s certainly an encouraging sign for not only Smart himself, but for the Celtics’ organization and their fans as well.

Smart will continue to display his new tools during the Las Vegas Summer League, starting tonight at 8:00 PM EST against the Portland Trail Blazers. Tonight’s game will be just another step in the evolution of Marcus Smart, a process that may very well put the rest of the NBA on notice about the youngster donning Celtics’ green.

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