One of the enduring debates heading into this offseason revolved around Marcus Smart. Specifically, whether or not the Boston Celtics should commit to him or whether they should part ways in anticipation of a big free agent signing.
For reasons unknown to nearly every other fan base in the league, the Boston Celtics opted to move essentially any other player they could in an effort to clear cap space, making Smart the longest tenured player on the team.
Statistically speaking, Smart doesn’t hold a candle to any of the aforementioned players.
In big minutes off the bench, Smart has only put up about nine points per game by converting roughly 36 percent of his field goal attempts. He’s shot a dismal 29 percent from three, earning notoriety as one of the worst three point shooters in the history of the league, per Paul Swydan.
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His numbers for rebounds and assists don’t really jump off the page, and the only significant box score category that Smart fills is the steals column, averaging about one-and-a-half per game.
Now, Danny Ainge isn’t insane. He has to be aware of Smart’s shooting woes and his general inability to fill the box score, which would mean that Smart’s value must fall outside the stat sheet.
This has been, and is, the argument for investing in Smart and keeping him on the roster.
Until recently, the only way to prove this argument was to watch Smart play. And the eye test does, in fact, confirm that Smart is some sort of hustle game savant.
Just watch a few minutes of the video below. The guy has a great sense of defensive spacing and knows how to capitalize on that, disrupting plays with deflections, going after loose balls, and drawing charges like few others in the league.
For all the egregious flops he commits, he seemingly draws twice as many charges.
Thanks to a recent NBA undertaking meant to diversify statistical data, budding analysts and commentators like myself now have access to quantitative information that can either confirm or deny Smart’s impact on the floor.
According to Zach Lowe, the NBA decided to track hustle stats heading into the 2016 playoffs. The new batch of numbers measure the frequency in which players contest shots, deflect the basketball, recover loose balls, and draw charges.
And as one might guess, Marcus Smart was among the league’s best at deflecting the basketball and drawing charges during the 2016-2017 season. He averaged exactly three deflections per game, good for 19th best in the league. He also drew the 10th most charges in the league per game.
His total numbers boost him higher up on each list. He contested 262 three-point attempts, good for 20th best in the league. With respect to total deflections, Smart knocked the ball away 234 times, which ties him with Tony Allen for 14th most deflections. He drew 23 charges total, which is the fifth most in the league.
Interestingly, both Bradley and Thomas recovered more loose balls than Smart. It is possible, however, that Smart’s propensity to deflect the basketball helped boost both Bradley and IT’s numbers in this column.
Because the Celtics look extraordinarily different heading into this season, the onus will be on Smart to carry forward the culture of defensive intensity, effort, and hustle that the team has cultivated over the last three or four years. This opportunity should help Smart mature, facilitating his development as a phenomenal energy and hustle guy, and a better all-around player.
By this time next year, the rest of the league will hopefully know why Danny Ainge decided to keep the Young Game Changer.