Boston Celtics: Is there cause for concern for Marcus Smart?

Boston Celtics (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Boston Celtics (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

The Boston Celtics fell on their home floor for the second time this season, losing to the Washington Wizards in a game they never seemed to have a handle on. The Cs were a second behind the Wizards from the jump, which put them in a hole their spurts of high-level minutes couldn’t surmount.

Even with Bradley Beal struggling, the Celts were unable to stop the Wizards offensively. Montrezl Harrell punished them in the paint, Spencer Dinwiddie bullied Schroder in the middle of the floor, and Aaron Holiday held the Wizards together in the fourth quarter. An overall poor game from the Boston Celtics in their second home game of the season.

Ime Udoka, Dennis Schroder, and Al Horford attributed the loss to a poor shootaround, making sure not to reveal any details but revealing just enough to let everyone know that whatever happened at shootaround cannot happen again. As big of a believer as I am in warming up the way you want to play, the Celts lost because of more significant reasons than their focus.

Jayson Tatum’s outside shot was nonexistent, and he wasn’t getting the calls he’s used to around the basket, Jaylen Brown was ice-cold until the 4th quarter, Horford was underplayed, Udoka’s play-calling was lackluster, and Marcus Smart had a negative offensive impact. Let’s talk about the latter.

Through five regular-season games, Smart has been an abysmal offensive player. He’s averaging 7.4 points, 4.8 assists, and 2.4 turnovers per game on 25/23/100 splits. There are a couple of reasons for Smart’s poor production.

For one, he’s shooting an alarming amount of jumpers. He’s driving the ball just 5.8 times per game while shooting 6.8 threes per game. Smart’s an okay shooter, but he’s a much better post-up player and a very creative player around the rim. He’s strong, has a good finishing touch, and has better vision, which, in theory, would make him a perfect partner with Robert Williams and Al Horford.

But, we’ve yet to see Smart integrate his passing game into his driving game and is instead settling for “bad shots.”

As one of the veterans on the team that just signed a massive extension, it’s on Smart to know himself and understand which shots he should be taking versus which ones he shouldn’t. However, I do believe he’s being misused.

I’m not going to grill Ime Udoka for not having every Celtics player in the perfect role to succeed. The beginning of the season will likely have a lot of road bumps as he figures out who is best suited to do what, but some things feel like apparent fixes. Smart’s role is one of those fixes.

Last season, Smart ranked fourth in pick and roll ball handler frequency on the Celtics at 23%. The year before that, he ranked fourth at 24%. This season, he ranks fourth again, but his percentage has dropped to 16%.

And he’s not the only one. Tatum and Brown have dipped well below 20%, while Schroder leads the team at 36%. Schroder is a terrific ball-handler and deserves a high possession count, but Udoka has poorly distributed reps amongst his starters.

One of Udoka’s first points of emphasis, when he joined the Boston Celtics, was that he wanted to institute better ball movement. The Celtics have been a noticeably better passing team, but they aren’t accomplishing that feat behind their best players and instead rely on their connectors to move the defense. This is great to watch when everyone hits their shots, but it’s also an easy way to ice Tatum and Brown and an easier way to get Smart in the wrong headspace.

I want to see Udoka try to get Smart up to a 25% pick and roll ball handler possession frequency over the next couple of games. Although this puts the ball in Smart’s hands more, which could lead to more bad shots, the opposite could also happen. With the ball in his hand more and a rim runner beside him, and shooters on the outside, Smart will be more inclined to make the play in front of him instead of trying to create it for himself.

I don’t think Smart will be this bad for the remainder of the season, and I do believe Udoka will figure this out eventually. However, the Boston Celtics will struggle until that happens, and their offensive identity will be inconsistent.

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