One of the most significant moves made by the Boston Celtics this offseason was trading Kemba Walker to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Al Horford. That move kick-started the C’s entire offseason and put them on a course for an improved defense and new offense.
Brad Stevens struck that deal with Sam Presti to free up more money for the Celts to spend on their eventual signings. But there was a more significant reason behind the trade.
By moving Kemba Walker out, the franchise subsequently moved Marcus Smart into the starting point guard slot. For most of Smart’s tenure in Boston, he’s always been a backup or played second fiddle to whoever the Cs were paying to play point guard.
First, it was Isaiah Thomas, then it was Kyrie Irving, and then Walker. Now, it’s just Marcus Smart all on his lonesome.
Giving the keys to the 27-year-old, whose experience as a starting point guard is relatively undocumented outside of a few stretches here and ther, is a risk.
However, by moving Kemba and refusing to bring in any available point guards on the market like Devonte Graham, Lonzo Ball, or Mike Conley, Brad Stevens and Ime Udoka have proven to Smart that he’s their man.
This article will go over what we can expect of Marcus Smart in his first entire season as the starting point guard of the Boston Celtics.
Beginning with his scoring, Smart is more likely to take a step back than a step forward. As weird as it is to say, the veteran will likely score less in a more significant role, and it makes sense when you break down what precisely the Cs need him to do.
With Jaylen Brown, Dennis Schroder, and, of course, potential MVP candidate Jayson Tatum the Celts will have more than enough scoring to go around. All Smart will need to do is hit spot-up triples and drive kick-outs from his two star-wings in the scoring department.
In 48 games, the guard averaged 13.1 points per game on 40/ 33 / 79 splits and at a 54 TS%. Without Kemba Walker, those numbers do not change outside of an increase in 3-point percentage.
This is a trend we expect to continue on into this coming year.
I expect Smart to cut his shot attempts down to about eight per game compared to the ten he put up last season. His 3-point volume will likely remain the same, hovering around five or six attempts per game, but the difference maker will be his efficiency.
In a conduced scoring role, Smart will have to learn how to do more with less. One way of doing this is shoring up his shot selection.
I hope Smart cuts his long-range volume to around three or four a game and, instead, ramp up his takes at the rim.
He’s far from a flashy finisher, shooting well below 60 percent in the last two seasons, but he does have the foundation to be a good paint scorer. His frame is big enough and doesn’t lack creativity under the rim.
He has a solid layup package and just has to be more aware of which shots he shoots.
Taking on the anchored big and help-side defender isn’t very smart, but it’s something Smart often does.
If he wants to see success as a scorer, it would be wise to decrease his self-creation reps and increase his drive reps, especially after getting a pass from Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown.
Smart needs to learn how to leverage his teammates’ gravity to create better shots for himself. If he can do that, the guard can average 12 or more points on above league-average efficiency.
Moving onto the essential prediction of Marcus Smart’s upcoming season, his passing game is bound to be the main aspect fans will be looking towards in 2021-22.
As the lead point guard for the Boston Celtics, surrounded by players who make their money scoring, he will carry the bulk of the C’s ball-handling load. We’ve seen Smart in this role before, but never have we seen him in this role throughout the entirety of a season.
Without Kemba Walker, Smart led the Celtics in assists per 100 possessions by a comfortable margin. The reason for such a significant jump in assists is due to the former’s ball-dominant playstyle.
With Walker out and nobody brought in to take his place, Smart will have to take responsibility for those touches, but given the difference between him and Walker, he’ll have to learn how to use them differently.
Smart averaged 64 touches and 48 passes made per game last year. With Walker gone, expect those two numbers to go up by at least a dozen.
I wouldn’t be surprised if he leads the team in passes, given how much facilitation he will have to do. In late-game scenarios, the Boston Celtics will have to rely on Smart to initiate their actions, meaning throughout the game, Smart will have to get comfortable with the defense he’s playing.
If Ime Udoka and Marcus Smart can put their heads together, as I’m sure they already have, and come up with a game plan to put Smart in the best positions to succeed as a passer, I wouldn’t be surprised if he winds up averaging somewhere around eight assists per game.
With all the team’s shooting, advantage scoring, and threats around the rim, Smart should have an easy time generating good looks for the Boston Celtics.
Lastly is Smart’s defense; ol’ reliable.
Smart took a sharp downturn on the defensive end after returning from his calf injury but turned it up in the last month of the season and carried his dominance into the playoffs.
Anyone questioning Smart’s defensive prowess will have nothing to worry about come the season opener. Even with an increase in offensive load, Smart will stay the course he’s been on his whole career and finish the year being in the conversation for an All-Defensive team nod.
All in all, Marcus Smart’s box score averages should look something like 12 points, four rebounds, seven or eight assists, two steals, and just under a block per game on 56-57 TS%.
Occasionally, Smart will have to flip the switch and become the legitimate third option for the Boston Celtics, but for the most part, you can expect games where he has more assists than points.