Marcus Smart’s Impact Not Captured By Box Score

Mar 21, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics point guard Marcus Smart (36) drives to the basket while guarded by Orlando Magic point guard Elfrid Payton (4) during the fourth quarter at TD Garden. The Boston Celtics won 107-96. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 21, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics point guard Marcus Smart (36) drives to the basket while guarded by Orlando Magic point guard Elfrid Payton (4) during the fourth quarter at TD Garden. The Boston Celtics won 107-96. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports /

One cannot truly appreciate the impact Marcus Smart has on a game by simply looking at his stat line. To the naked eye, Smart’s output is unimpressive. The box score will tell one story, but if you actually watch Smart play, your eyes will tell you a different one.

The term “hustle play” has been used in abundance, across all sports, for years now by fans, media, analysts, etc. What constitutes as a hustle play is up to the viewer to decide, and therefore there is no way to quantify the number of hustle plays one may have throughout the course of a game. If there were a way, Smart would stuff that portion of the box score on a nightly basis.

To many, hustle involves diving into the crowd to save the ball from going out of bounds, or diving on the floor for a loose ball. There are also simple things like, sprinting back on defense to thwart a fast-break opportunity, or getting up the floor quickly to give your offense a numbers advantage that require hustle.

Sure, these are things that players should be expected to do, but the reality is that most of them don’t. These types of plays are second-nature to Smart. While some players turn the hustle on and off, it seems like Smart’s engine doesn’t stop until the clock hits triple zeros.

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Smart’s energy and intensity off the bench won’t show up in any box score either. After lethargic starts from the starting five, Brad Stevens will turn to Smart. Smart’s energy is infectious not only to his teammates, but to the fans in the building too. Those “hustle plays” can ignite a crowd and really shift the momentum of a game.

Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports /

Defensively is where Smart really makes his mark. His ferocious on-ball defense, physicality and his instincts give him the potential to be one of the top on-ball defenders in the league for years to come. There’s a lot more to good defense than just steals and blocks — though Smart does average 1.5 steals per game. At times he looks like a defensive back snatching opposing guard’s passes out of thin air.

NBA statisticians will look at real plus-minus to help determine the impact of a singular player on both ends of the floor. Smart is fifth in the league amongst all point guards in defensive real plus-minus.

One thing that does show up on a stat sheet is rebounds, which as a point guard, Smart has an uncanny knack for. Amongst point guards, Smart is tied for third in rebounds per 48 minutes. Smart is a particularly effective offensive rebounder, as he ranks second only to Russell Westbrook in offensive rebounds per game. On the surface, the offensive rebound per game average, 1.2, doesn’t seem like much, but that number is misleading.

Smart is constantly in the paint, fighting amongst the bigs for rebounds. Even if he doesn’t always come down with it, Smart will keep possessions alive by tipping it up repeatedly until a bigger teammate grabs it, or he swats it out to the three-point line a la Amir Johnson. He may not get credit for the rebound, but his presence is surely felt.

At 6’4″, Smart is typically going up against guys that are five to six inches taller than him, but that doesn’t deter him at all. He’s also not afraid to battle with more than one guy. The play that best captured the type of player Smart is came against the Phoenix Suns a little over a week ago. Smart grabbed an offensive rebound despite being surrounded by four Suns players, and managed to kick it out to an open man for a three.

However, people seem fixated on Smart’s shooting woes right now. There’s no sugar-coating the slump that he currently finds himself in, specifically from three-point range. Over roughly the past month, Smart has shot a miserable 17% from three. He’s made just 12 of his last 70 attempts. That’s led to a lot of criticism and fear that Smart will never be a shooter. Yet, in his previous 70 attempts from long range, Smart shot 38%.

Smart didn’t make his mark as a shooter during his two years at Oklahoma State. In fact, he shot less than 30% from three in both years. Smart averaged 16.6 PPG as a Cowboy because of his ability to attack the rim. He averaged more than seven free throw attempts per game. That’s where Smart can rack up points.

His free throw attempts per game are still down, but they are up from his rookie season. Part of the problem is he’s still not getting the benefit of the doubt with officials. Smart can embellish calls at times on the defensive end, and I think that is affecting the officials’ willingness to call fouls for him. He’s made a more concerted effort to attack the basket this year. Eventually, he’ll start getting himself some free throws. If he’s able to shoot better than 30% from three, that’s a bonus.

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Some people are going overboard and suggesting it may be time to trade Smart. That’s ludicrous. He’s in his second year, give the guy a chance to develop a little before you ship him out of town. It sounds so cliché, but Smart does the little things night in and night out that impact the game, but you’ll never see show up in the box score. While it may seem so simple, those guys are hard to find.