Marcus Smart Evolving As Floor General
While his three-point shooting may still be subpar, Boston Celtics point guard Marcus Smart has developed significantly as a playmaker this season.
Throughout the offseason, Boston Celtics fans clamored for Marcus Smart to dedicate the time spent working on his craft to becoming an improved three-point shooter. Smart made just 61 of his 241 three-point attempts for a horrific 25.3 percent three-point percentage, and critics hammered home the notion that if his marksmanship from deep failed to balloon, his playing time would abruptly decrease.
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However, these pundits failed to grasp the concept that perhaps Smart’s repertoire is better served at the point guard position rather than moving without the ball. Despite the fact Smart has upped his three-point shooting to 28.1 percent while hitting 2-4 from deep in recent wins over the Knicks and Grizzlies, he has seen better success playing with the ball in his possession rather than serving as the shooting guard. We witnessed Smart’s potential to become a fruitful shot caller in Friday’s victory over the Heat. With Avery Bradley sitting out the contest due to an illness, Smart witnessed his minutes rise to 34, his highest mark since the 37 minutes he racked up in a loss to the Spurs on December 14 in which Isaiah Thomas was absent.
Smart took the reins at the point guard position on a plethora of occasions with Thomas playing off the ball. The result was a fluid offensive performance in which Thomas exploded for a career-high 52 points on a scintillating 9-13 showing from three-point range. Playing Thomas off of the ball allowed his teammates to create openings for him by setting a multitude of screens. This led to considerable open looks for Thomas throughout the night. Although Smart may have struggled from the field in a 1-7 shooting outing, he appeared comfortable handling the ball. He turned it over on just one occasion while racking up six points to accompany multiple assists.
This instance was not the first in which we have seen Smart’s improved passing abilities. He racked up seven assists in just 28 minutes of play against the Knicks while posting six assists versus Memphis. In tightly-contested losses to the Thunder and Spurs earlier in the season, Smart recorded eight and 10 assists, respectively, nearing double-doubles in each outing. The comfort that Smart displays with the rock in his possession is evident, and he is effective at penetrating through the defense and finding his teammates for open looks.
Smart’s assist rate per 100 possessions has skyrocketed from just 5.4 in 2015-16 to 7.2 this season. Additionally, his assist percentage has risen from 15.8 percent to 20.7 percent, and his number of assists per 36 minutes of 5.2 is well above his career average of 4.3. The only exception to this improvement is the fact that his turnover percentage has increased from 11.7 percent to 15.1 percent. To his defense, this figure can be attributed to his usage rate of 18 percent eclipsing his career usage rate of 16.6 percent.
Smart’s development as a passer will result in him receiving more opportunities to run the floor with Thomas, Bradley, or the emerging Gerald Green playing off of the ball. His jump in playing time from 27.3 minutes per game last season to 29.8 this year has already resulted in a scaling back of Terry Rozier‘s minutes, and this trend is likely to continue as long as Smart’s recently contracted gastrointestinal illness does not sideline him for an extended period of time.
In addition to his upgrade in the playmaking department, Smart has augmented his value as a scorer in post-up situations. Standing a stout 6’4″, 220 pounds, Smart has the ability to utilize his bulk to outmuscle fellow point guards down low. This season, he has showcased an enriched post game, taking advantage of his size to expose mismatches. Out of those who average over one post-up opportunity per game, Smart’s points per possession in post-up situations of 1.11 ranks third in the NBA. This figure narrowly trails Gay of the Kings (1.13) and Butler of the Bulls (1.19), who sits fourth in the Eastern Conference in scoring average with 25.3 points per game.
Smart’s ability to back down smaller defenders and finish efficiently will result in defenses being forced to drop an extra defender down from the perimeter to help prevent him from scoring. In turn, options will open up on the perimeter. With Smart’s enhanced passing abilities, he will be able to pass out of this double-team and find the open man on the perimeter. With the Celtics being a dynamic passing team, occasions in which this open man draws a defender to rotate before dishing to another wide-open man at the top of the key could be plentiful.
As of now, Smart receives these post-up chances at a frequency of just 7.5 percent. However, his score frequency in these situations is a substantial 57.1 percent while his and-one frequency stands at 7.1 percent. With these figures, expect Smart’s post-up opportunities to steadily rise.