Boston Celtics Position Battle: Smart vs Rozier


Looking into who is better off taking over Evan Turner’s role as a playmaker with the second unit

The second unit has been crucial to the Boston Celtics‘ success over the last couple years and Evan Turner did a phenomenal job running the point with that unit last year. With Turner now out of the picture, it is time for one of the young guards to step up and take over that role and right now it should come down to Marcus Smart or Terry Rozier.

Smart’s experience gives him a distinct advantage, but his struggles on the offensive end are concerning. Smart is likely going to get his opportunity to play with the ball in his hands, but after the progress Rozier appears to be making since his rookie season, he will be on a short leash. Even if Smart initially has that role, Rozier will certainly get an opportunity to be the playmaker that they need.

While Smart has more experience playing with Brad Stevens, Rozier was always the ball handler and play maker in college. Throw in what he was able to do in that role in the summer league and there is a lot of hype surrounding Rozier entering this season.

The key for both Smart and Rozier is their aggressiveness. A big part of Isaiah Thomas‘ success with the Celtics last year had to do with his intelligence and aggrevieness. One of the most active drivers in the league always pushed the pace in transition. Thomas understood how the Celtics needed to play on offense in order to be successful and that gave him a unique balance of scoring, passing and limiting turnovers.

Obviously, there is no chance that Smart or Rozier can capture the same impact that Thomas does. That being said, he took an ideal approach to optimizing his role with the Celtics and if Rozier or Smart can achieve that (even with far less effectiveness) then they will emerge as the instigator and ball handler of the second unit.

The biggest problem the Celtics may run into is while Smart and Rozier have demonstrated the necessary aggressiveness, neither of them can be expected to replicate Turner’s passing ability. As limited as he was shooting the ball, Turner had such a large role with the Celtics because of the way he moved the ball and generated opportunities for his teammates.

The number one priority for Smart this offseason has to be shooting, and that may give Rozier the edge when it comes to being the ball handler. Smart was given a completely unwarranted green light last season. Stevens allows him to play with the aggressiveness that only much better shooters should be allowed to do. If Smart is looking to optimize his role with the second unit, he may be better playing off the ball, allowing Rozier to take control with the ball in his hands.

Oct 19, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Evan Turner (11), guard Marcus Smart (36), forward Amir Johnson (90), guard Terry Rozier (12) and forward Jared Sullinger (back) speak during the second half of a game against the Brooklyn Nets at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 19, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Evan Turner (11), guard Marcus Smart (36), forward Amir Johnson (90), guard Terry Rozier (12) and forward Jared Sullinger (back) speak during the second half of a game against the Brooklyn Nets at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports /

Of course, Rozier had a similar problem last season. He shot terribly, and its hard to imagine either of these guys being successful in an increased role without improving their shot. In addition to being a phenomenal passer, Turner developed into a much more intelligent shooter. He realized his strengths in the mid range game and cut out three point shooting. Turner made the necessary adjustments to his game and it paid off with his highest shooting percentage.

The problem with Smart and Rozier is it is still difficult to gauge what kind of adjustments they need to make. Smart is still at a point where he can be optimistic about developing a three point shot, and if that happens he could flourish in an Avery Bradley type role with the second unit. At just 3 assists per game, Smart would have to make drastic adjustments to his approach if he is going to become the primary passer on the second unit, and that could then slow down the progress he needs to make as a shooter.

While there is even less trust with Rozier, the Thomas type role appears to suit him better. His effectiveness in driving to the rim and willingness to be a play maker is a great combination in that role, and the summer league made it clear that he wants the ball in his hands and pushing the pace will never be an issue for him.

The Celtics know that they need someone to take over Turner’s role as a ball handler with the second unit, and the unfortunate reality is that both Rozier and Smart have struggled tremendously on the offensive end. The second unit could lose much of its effectiveness if the Celtics do not find someone to replicate his impact and both Rozier and Smart need to drastically improve aspects of their game if they want to have that kind of impact.

The good news for Rozier or Smart is that they have the defense and the energy to be effective, while the hope has always been that they would improve on the offensive end. While Smart is looking to develop into a stronger shooter, Rozier may be better served becoming the kind of ball handler and distributor that Turner was, just with the potential to be a much more successful three point shooter (although that remains a work in progress).

Next: Boston Celtics Position Battle: Johnson vs Olynyk

The Celtics young core of guards has been highly touted as one of the deepest groups in the league and with Turner gone that depth will be tested. Smart has been great in particular areas but  they need a more balanced and well rounded offensive player to emerge if the second unit wants to pick up from where they left off last year.