Can Marcus Smart Slide Into Evan Turner Role?

Apr 28, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) reacts against the Atlanta Hawks during the second half in game six of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 28, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) reacts against the Atlanta Hawks during the second half in game six of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports /
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Can Marcus Smart emerge as the offensive leader of the Celtics second unit following the departure of Evan Turner in free agency?

Throughout the majority of the 2015-16 campaign, when All-Star Isaiah Thomas received a breather on the bench in between shifts, the offensive fluidity of the Boston Celtics relied on one option: Evan Turner. Despite his horrific marks from beyond the three-point arc for the better part of the season, the since-departed shooting guard proved himself to be the only reserve capable of finding his own shot and creating for his teammates via penetration.

In the absence of Thomas, Boston needed someone who could create offense, and that option was Turner. He excelled in utilizing his ball-handling ability and an under appreciated back-to-the-basket arsenal to weave his way for 15-foot midrange jumpers, hitting 42.7 percent of his looks from between 10-16 feet. Turner also possessed the capability to abuse a defender in isolation situations or off of a pick-and-roll as well to make his way to the basket, a skill that his fellow backcourt mates failed to nail down over the course of the season.

Now, with Turner taking his per-36 minute average of 13.5 points on 48.2 percent shooting from two-point range to the Portland Trail Blazers, Celtics third-year guard Marcus Smart will be expected to make the next step into pioneering the offensive attack of the bench unit. While he has showed flashes of being able to command a game with his penetration abilities, recording multiple 26-point efforts last season, Smart needs to make serious strides in his offensive arsenal should he take the next step into becoming the leader that Boston needs him to be.

In order to contend with the likes of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference, having a team of reserves capable of producing offensively and competing with the opposition’s first teamers is critical. We have witnessed from the Golden State Warriors how having an effective bench can pay tremendous dividends in extending leads while providing the starting unit with crucial rest.

For Boston, much of this offensive production from the second-team will need to be facilitated by Smart. He was efficient in handling the ball last season, turning the rock over just 1.7 times per 36 minutes in comparison to Turner’s average of 2.7. However, his court vision and ability to find his teammates in promising positions to convert a basket must improve.

Per 36 minutes in 2015-16, Smart posted just four assists compared with Turner’s 5.7. His assist percentage stood at an underwhelming 15.8 percent, while Turner’s mark was a telling 23.9 percent after hovering around 30 percent in his first season with the Celtics. Should Smart look to fill the playmaking void left by Turner on the second unit, his activity level in creating offense for his teammates must be increased, and his assist percentage should be upped to around 25 percent.

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Furthermore, one of the attributes of Turner’s game that made his production so valuable to Boston’s bench was his ability to create and knock down the midrange look off of the dribble. When one of head coach Brad Stevens‘ offensive sets may have fallen through and the Celtics needed someone to find an open look for himself as the shot clock ticked down, Turner stepped into that role. Turner did not always have that ability, however, and Stevens should be wishing for a similar development from Smart.

In 2015-16, Smart garnered the seventh-worst effective field goal percentage in the NBA (40.5 percent). This figure was frightening as it was a tick below Kobe Bryant, whose shot selection was essentially unfiltered throughout his final season in the league. Smart converted on just 31.2 percent of his shot attempts from between 3-10 feet and 31 percent on two-pointers from beyond 16 feet.

For Smart to replicate Turner’s nearly Sixth Man of Year Award-worthy showing last season, his effectiveness in the midrange game must improve. However, Smart’s proficiency in shooting off the dribble in 2015-16 showcased the fact that he is prepared to exceed expectations.

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While his shooting percentages off of the catch were poor, he ranked in the top 20 in the NBA in effective field goal percentage off of the dribble. This displays that Smart has the foundation necessary to become someone who can create and make their own shot, something that the Celtics bench desperately needs heading into the season.