If there’s one thing I learned in reading the feedback from Boston Celtics fans in the comments section of my previous article, it’s this: man, do you not want to say anything that might be construed as criticism of Marcus Smart. At least not in this town.
This Boston Celtics fanbase, well-known for its dedication bordering on rabidity, sure is primed and ready to rally to Marcus’ side at the first signs of trouble.
I would say Boston Celtics fans defend Smart about as hard as he defends the Celtics’ on-court opponents even.
Smart has very clearly been able to impassion fans in a way not many players have— even here in Boston, where sports reign supreme.
But why is that, Celtics fans? Do we overrate Smart? And lastly, can we have a frank discussion on the topic, examining both Smart’s strengths and, dare I say it, weaknesses?
I’m not so sure we can, but here goes nothing…
With the sixth pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, The Boston Celtics select… Marcus Smart, from Oklahoma State University…
From the instant Adam Silver announced Smart was the choice of Danny Ainge and Boston’s front office team on draft night 2014, Celtics fans became very, very deeply invested in the player.
Realistically, fans were bound to place almost all of their hoops related hopes and dreams for the future in Smart given the circumstances the team found itself in at the time.
The draft that year for the Boston Celtics ultimately represented a shift in focus for the club, from the dying remnants of the big three era, to an investment in player development and building from the ground up.
The Celtics had just said goodbye to Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce the year prior in a heist of a deal with the Brooklyn Nets.
Then the Rajon Rondo led Celtics of the 2013-2014 NBA calendar year proved themselves to be an aimless group, amassing what was an expectedly disappointing record of twenty-five wins and fifty-seven losses. Rondo himself had been trying to reestablish himself as a top-shelf point guard, battling his way back from an ACL tear suffered the year before.
Thus, on draft night 2014, with the recent successes of the past now squarely in the rearview mirror, the entirety of this Boston Celtics fanbase turned its collective eyes towards the future. And that future was set to begin with Smart.
Smart’s draft day selection undoubtedly brought with it the promise of a new generation of winning in Boston. Understanding this, could anyone fairly blame Celtics fans if they had been a little too eager to pin Smart as their next star, the player who would lead them back to championship contention? Certainly not.
While he has not lived up to the lofty expectations some may have had for him, since entering the league five seasons ago (has it really been that long?!), Smart has very successfully established himself as an elite defender, and as Romeo Langford recently referred to him, “a dog.”
That’s a fitting description for Smart, a player who relentlessly hounds his opponents who attempt to score or even just get off a clean pass while he is on the court.
And this offseason, Smart’s tireless dedication to all things defense finally garnered adequate recognition, with his being given the second most coveted defensive honor a NBA player can hope for. First team all-defense.
As many a dedicated Celtics fan can and most vociferously will attest, Smart likely should have been named to the all defensive squad well before now.
He was also recognized with the NBA’s Hustle Award.
It is perhaps especially gratifying to fans of Smart’s that a player like Smart receive these types of awards, because his contributions are prone to being overlooked, or misunderstood, whereas they aren’t captured by traditional statistics.
Simply looking at the box score every night, for instance, will not tell you the whole story when it comes to Smart’s impact on a game.
At long last, Smart had received his just due.
He has unquestionably proven himself a valuable asset to any basketball team with championship aspirations. But, Boston Celtics fans, again, I’ve gotta ask, do we overrate him?
Until this past season, Smart had posted some of the worst shooting statistics in NBA history — which wouldn’t be quite as much of a problem if Marcus didn’t shoot the ball so darn often.
However, he has most certainly worked very hard to improve upon his poor shooting. He has practiced so much even, that he has done so extensively during games! (Kidding, guys. Just kidding.)
Then this past season, all of the hard work finally began to pay dividends, when he posted career bests in both his overall field goal percentage and that from beyond the three point line. And while his overall field goal percentage of .422% was still well-below the league’s average, his three point shot was a more than respectable .364%.
With his improved shooting, Smart’s overall game seems to have taken shape. He has molded himself into the prototypical “three and D” type of player.
However, he is yet to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s a truly indispensable part of this Boston Celtics team, as we had hoped he would have by now way back on draft night — despite what his most ardent supporters may tell you.
Danny Ainge having made Smart available for trades on many occasions is compelling evidence of that.
As I recall, trade chatter first began to seriously surround Smart a few years ago, when to the dismay of many a Celtics fan, Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Celtics were engaged in trade talks “throughout the NBA” involving Smart, Avery Bradley, and Jae Crowder.
Marcus’ named resurfaced in trade talks ahead of last year’s deadline, when the team also considered trading Smart and reportedly had been offering him around the league in exchange for what they hoped would be a first round pick in return.
In the offseason of that year, the Celts discussed including Smart in a sign and trade deal with other teams. This, after he was reported to have felt disrespected by the Celtics’ front office for not making him more of an offseason priority.
The Celtics would of course go on to re-sign Smart that offseason, albeit to a lesser contract than he and his agent had hoped to secure.
Finally, this very offseason, Smart was rumored to be included in a proposed trade package for Anthony Davis — which doesn’t tell you much. (There aren’t many players a GM worth his salt wouldn’t include in a deal for a talent such as Davis.)
Yet it’s clear that the Celtics, while valuing Smart’s very important contributions, recognize there are limits to his value and have at times thought there could be more value for the team in trading him rather than keeping him on board.
So the Celtics organization itself has told us there is definite value to a hard-hustling, very good three and D type of player — but that this value also only goes so far.
Now, is it really just that Celtics fans fell completely head over heels for Smart back on draft night, and all of the promise his selection entailed?
Did we tie up all of our hopes and dreams in the young combo guard from Oklahoma State so inextricably as not to tolerate a degree of criticism for him, even now?
I would speculate there’s more than just one missing piece to this puzzle.
A lot of the chatter on the topic of Smart seemingly breaks down into two distinct, and distant, sides. In one camp, we have the avid supporters of Smart’s. In the other, the detractors or skeptics. There doesn’t seem to be much gray area when it comes to fans’ opinions of Marcus Smart.
Thus, I think part of the problem is we are all pretty well dug into our respective camps at this point, and find ourselves unwilling to budge. After-all, I can only be right if you’re wrong.
Next, I believe fans also feel Smart very much deserves their backing and emotional investment. He has certainly invested himself very deeply into improving his game, all the while dispensing of every last breath of his to continue making the tough plays on a night in and night out basis.
But I would guess that perhaps the biggest reason some fans support Smart to the ends of the earth (which is flat, by the way, just as Kyrie), is because the contrarians have a legitimate case to make in criticizing this player.
His shot selection, guys. His bloody, freakin’ shot selection…
One clear indicator here is the whole “doth protest too much” thing. After-all, why so defensive, Celtics fans?
We’re just talking a little hoops, you know…
So guys and gals, what do you think? Who’s right, and who’s wrong? Can we make room for a middle ground? Did I give Smart a fair shake in this article?
Let me hear from you in the comments section. I appreciate you — yes, even you, Rocco, Duff, and Emmanuel (these were some of the most critical commenters on my last article).