Can Marcus Smart Follow In Avery Bradley’s Footsteps?

Feb 25, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) and guard Marcus Smart (36) speak during the first half of a game against the Milwaukee Bucks at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 25, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) and guard Marcus Smart (36) speak during the first half of a game against the Milwaukee Bucks at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports /

Marcus Smart should look to Avery Bradley’s career arc for inspiration.

Different people see different things when they look at Marcus Smart. Some see him as a guy who flops, while others see him as an elite defender. Some see him as a role player, while others see him as a key piece of a championship team. Smart is far from a complete player, and there is still plenty of room for improvement. There’s also plenty of time for improvement, just ask Avery Bradley.

Anybody who has followed the Boston Celtics closely over the past decade knows just how different a player Bradley currently is, compared to just a few years ago. In his first few years in the NBA, Bradley was a defensive specialist. Offensively, the majority of his points came around the rim. He made a living moving without the ball, and cutting to the basket. His shot left much to be desired.

However, now in his seventh NBA season, Bradley’s offense has drastically improved. His game is evolving each year. He’s headed for a career year this year, in what has been his best shooting season by far. Through the first 20 games, Bradley is shooting just under 47 percent from the floor and just under 41 percent from three-point range. He’s also one of just two players in the league to have made a three-pointer in every game this season.

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Bradley’s offensive transformation has been impressive. Early on, he was a slasher. With more playing time, he started to take more jump shots. With each year, he gradually increased his range. His fourth year in the league is when he had his breakthrough.

In the 2013-14 season, Bradley’s points per game average jumped five points from the previous season. His overall shooting percentage improved from 40 to 43 percent, and his three-point shooting jumped eight points from 31 to 38 percent. In that season alone, Bradley attempted 200 three-pointers, more than his first three seasons combined.

He has continuously evolved. It feels as if he has added a nuance to his game, every season. Most recently, Bradley has added a pretty reliable pull-up jumper to his game. His confidence is visible. He has come a long way offensively from his early days as a Celtic.

Smart’s reputation is similar to what Bradley’s was in the beginning of his career; a great defender with an inconsistent jump shot. Through his first two-plus seasons, Smart’s shooting around 35 percent overall, but just 29 percent from three. His shooting percentages dropped significantly from his rookie to sophomore season. Through the early stages of year three, his shooting is up a little in comparison to last year, but still below-average.

That fluctuation defines the type of shooter Smart currently is. He’s hot and cold. Here’s a four-game stretch from this season to illustrate.

November 14 against the New Orleans Pelicans, six of 12. Two nights later against the Dallas Mavericks, one for six. In the next game against the Golden State Warriors, four for 10. Lastly, November 19 against the Detroit Pistons, one for nine.

The one major difference between Bradley and Smart in terms of their offense is discipline. Bradley was much more disciplined early in his career than Smart, and frankly he still is. I love the aggressiveness that Smart plays with, specifically on the defensive end. However, at times on offense, he gets a bit too aggressive and his shot selection can be poor.

Yes, sometimes he can be frustrating to watch offensively, but thankfully, Smart can impact the game in many other ways. One thing he does do better than Bradley is attack the basket off the dribble. That’s something Smart needs to do more of. One, because he’s much more effective around the rim. Two, because Boston needs somebody other than Isaiah Thomas to get to the free throw line.

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As you watch Smart and Bradley right now, you may think there’s no way Smart can become what Bradley has offensively. Yet, I don’t think many envisioned Bradley becoming the offensive player that he is after his first few seasons. Patience is the key. It took some time for Bradley.