Is Marcus Smart on wrong side of the hourglass?

Mar 9, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) on the court against the Memphis Grizzlies in the second half at TD Garden. The Celtics defeated Memphis 116-96. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 9, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) on the court against the Memphis Grizzlies in the second half at TD Garden. The Celtics defeated Memphis 116-96. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports /

Marcus Smart has some of the most rare, unteachable skills in the NBA. All of which consistently manifest on the defensive side of the ball. A certain knack for being in the right place to steal the ball away by interrupting passing angles, also ready and willing to surrender his body anytime it is necessary.

The art of winning is found in plays as such. Diving on the ground after loose balls are fantastic plays and all but if you can’t put the ball in the basket, those plays do not seem to shine as bright. Smart came into the league as hungry as any rookie in his draft class, just without all the skills one hopes for.

Offense is the only portion of the game that some of  the worst teams in the league can pull off. Defense, however, is held solely in regards of the teams competing for the playoffs. Was it coincidence this team made it to the playoffs and found a new commitment to the hustle plays and straight up defense, once Smart was drafted. As soon as those plays were made, playoffs seemed more attainable, and not to mention the mid-season trades of Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas.

This year,on the other hand, optimism was at an all time high for the second year, 22-year-old guard. Having us all bear witness to his aptitude for greatness, gave everyone the opportunity to expect a leap forward that may even launch his team into a higher seed, with greater promise. The offensive repertoire has developed some, but it is nowhere near the level one would have hoped for.

The pick-and-roll play has advanced, in that he can actually run a proper pick-and roll-play. The problem is, he has matured, just not to the level a suddenly ultra competitive franchise would like. His clock is ticking, the clock wrapped around Danny Ainge’s wrist. Coach Brad Stevens has no choice but to play him, for his ambition on defense and everywhere in between that and reliable offense.

His 2015-16 campaign has not relied so much on 18 foot jumpers and three-point shots. With more of a target aimed in the paint, where his 6’4” built frame could handle finishing at the rim. He delivers in the post, it just does not fit the pace and space philosophy Brad has in place, which his team functions best in. Until he hits more outside shots with more frequency he can not thrive in this system. It feels he can eventually facilitate and create his own shot on par among the likes of starting guards throughout the league.

We have seen more post plays when this team sometimes runs big with Marcus at the one and Evan Turner at the two. Both of those guards could exploit any match up or catch the defense mis-matched elsewhere due to the size at the guard position. 

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Evan Turner, being such an excellent pick-and-roll player, could be hindering Smart’s refinement on the offensive end. Another decision Danny Ainge needs to figure out is, whether to pay Evan Turner who is due a nice contract, or give more control of the team to Marcus Smart. I would understand resigning Turner and trading Smart in addition to ditching Turner and assigning more responsibility to Marcus. That is one tough decision with both being relatively young and improving and capable players. Keeping the two oddly talented players seems a bit more counter intuitive than anything. I would expect at most, one of these players on the roster come next trade deadline or before.

Conceding  judgement on Smart would seem a little premature because I believe the skill set he needs the most fine tuning is easily addressed through repetition. His competitiveness, is what coach Stevens seems to point out about Marcus during each interview. At the end of the day, his rare gift of shooting 1-11 and still able to create positive plays to help his team win may not be enough for Danny or perhaps it is concrete enough.

Next: Celtics Draft Profile: Jakob Poeltl

I’ve said, and every other basketball watcher has said too, this league is geared more for the makers of baskets than the missers. If “The Cobra” finds his shot, especially from three his ceiling then becomes as high as MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard. I know Ainge would not like to be the general manager that gave up on a perennial competitor for All-NBA honors. Marcus is in full control of whether he evolves into the guy on the team to beat, nonetheless the hourglass has been flipped and time may be running out.