Dec 7, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) against the Orlando Magic during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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It’s no secret at this point that the Philadelphia 76ers have a problem. Their glut of centers in the frontcourt have bogged down the rotation, and sparked controversy that isn’t healthy for any locker room — especially one as young as the Sixers.
Nerlens Noel‘s discontent and Jahlil Okafor‘s inability to fit makes both of them ideal trade pieces, and they both hold some significant value on the open market. Now whether or not the team is able to clear up the situation this season is unknown, but there are avenues towards doing so.
A number of teams are being lobbed around in trade rumors with Philadelphia this season. Perhaps, however, they should revert back to a team who was likely in contact quite a bit over the summer — the Boston Celtics.
The Celtics have been consistently looking to take the next step forward per se, and a quality center alongside Al Horford could, within reason, push them in that direction.
People have had trouble determining the right trade piece in Boston’s arsenal, and thus many have been hesitant to dub them proper trade partners. Terry Rozier doesn’t really hold the same value as either big, and their Brooklyn pick — which could feasibly convey at number one this season — is well off the table.
Smart brings defensive versatility that could be valuable in the coming years.
The Philadelphia 76ers are clearly a team on the rise, but there are some very real issues that remain. First and foremost in their logjam in the frontcourt, but their perimeter defense — or lack thereof — at times is a thorn in their side during a lot of games.
Smart, for all the slack he takes on the offensive end, makes up for it with truly elite defense.
As somebody who is largely overlooked in the discussion of best perimeter defenders, Smart’s strength and athletic tools on the perimeter give him uncanny defensive versatility. He’s not overly tall for a point guard (6-4), but is a robust athlete with premier defensive instincts.
He can guard any position one through three at a very high level, and brings a degree of physicality that few players possess. He guarded LeBron James‘ massive build on the playoff stage in impressive fashion, and can be equally as effective on a quick-witted point guard.
He’s willing to dive to the floor for loose balls, and is strong enough to hold his positioning in the post against the stronger wing players in the NBA. He plays the passing lanes well too, and brings a sort of bravado to the defensive side of the floor that can really lift a team’s energy.
In short, he’s one heckuva a defender — and any team can use that.
Quick look at the tape
Here’s Smart guarding James Harden. Now, Harden is arguably the toughest individual matchup in basketball from a defensive perspective. His ability to draw contact is second to none, and he’s as adept as anybody in creating space and getting off shots.
So, on that note, there’s obviously imperfections here. Harden is going to find his looks, and he’ll have his opportunities here and there without question.
But, there are some very strong attributes shown here. In the first few seconds of the clip, he showcases his strength in battling Harden on the post-up, staying in his grill and forcing a nicely contested fadeaway without too much space.
He also fights through screens well, and forces Harden out of the lane off the drive and does a nice job of keeping a hand in his face on every shot.
Here’s a nice highlight tape of sorts for Smart’s defense. Notice how well he moves his feet to takes charges on the interior, as well as his ability to get into the grill of the opposition and play the passing lanes.
While this might not be the best manner of analyzing defensive tape, there’s still a number of worthwhile thoughts you can take away. The guy’s got hustle, and his footwork and grit on that side of the ball is an incredibly useful asset to have.
He’s still just 22 as well, which is impressive considering how strong he already is.
Where the Sixers could use his defense
The Sixers don’t have much in terms of defense on the perimeter. Outside of Robert Covington and Gerald Henderson‘s occasional foray into solid hustle plays, they’re a fairly exploitable team on the perimeter.
We’ve also seen the ebb and flow of Covington’s body language with his struggles this season, which isn’t a positive sign moving forward. He doesn’t really seem like a long term asset, and is far from someone I’d want to bank on for the team’s defensive identity on the perimeter moving forward.
This is a team that seems prone to unique lineup trials, and that’s an area where Smart provides some needed flexibility If they do want to hand Simmons the unabridged point guard role, they’ll need somebody capable of flexing out to the point guard spot on defense.
Smart can play off the ball at a high level and still provide an elite perimeter defender in that scenario, allowing Simmons to revert back to covering the three or four spot without opening up a hole on the exterior.
Smart’s offense is certainly a unique fit, but one the Sixers could make work.
I’m not here to try and convince you that Smart is some untapped offensive wiz. He’s not. Offense is a struggle of his at times, and his all-too-known lack of a jumper is something that is a non-starter for a lot of Sixer fans.
With that said, there are some bright sides to his offensive game, and there’s certainly a way to make him work on that side of the ball.
This is, however, assuming that Brett Brown is willing to make necessary — and sane — adjustments to the rotation. No tall ball, no twin towers, etcetera is a must here, and a must in general to improving the team’s offensive execution.
Smart has utility with other floor spacers around him.
So here’s the not-so-crazy plan here. Assuming we’re offloading a big for Marcus Smart, we can slide Saric — and eventually Simmons — back into the rotation alongside Embiid. That covers one through three, leaving another guard alongside Smart to fill out the rotation.
For the sake of this piece, let’s make that person Robert Covington.
Now Smart’s outside shot isn’t very effective in a vacuum (29.3 percent in his career), but when worked into the offense correctly it’s — at the very least — an option. He can knock down the occasional jumper off the catch, and improved shooting is nothing out of reach nowadays.
Where his best offense comes, however, is out of the post. A somewhat unique attribute for a guard. We’ve seen Brad Stevens knock Terry Rozier out of the rotation in favor of giving Smart more room to operate in that scenario, and it’s something with intriguing utility for the Sixers.
Simmons operate as the primary playmaker for the most part, but can also be utilized successfully as a cutter. Smart can hit shots when bruising smaller guards around the block, but can also hit the likes of Simmons and Embiid on short backdoor cuts to the basket.
He’d also be able to find open shooters (Saric and Covington) on the perimeter off the double team, something that would likely be needed against a good number of smaller point guards forced with guarding him.
And ideally, they’d get a more consistent threat than Covington in the not-so-distant future.
This would assume that Smart is given the arbitrary marking of point guard here, even if he doesn’t play that position in context offensively. Being guarded by the opposing point guard for scenarios like this work, meaning no Sergio Rodriguez or T.J. McConnell pairings.
Another way to get involved in the offense is to have him making his own cuts to the basket. Put Simmons in the post or facing up on the perimeter, and allow Smart to utilize his strength and athleticism to finish off dives to the basket.
He has shown a fair amount of success with this in Boston, and it’s what allows him to work well alongside Isaiah Thomas offensively. He still gets nearly 10 points per game in 29 minutes, which means he does contribute offensively.
You’re sacrificing some perimeter scoring for more open opportunities for the big men here, namely Embiid — who benefits from eliminating tall ball alone.
This, coupled with elite defense in needed areas, makes Smart a reasonable investment. He shoots better than T.J. McConnell, folks.
Marcus Smart guards Philadelphia 76ers’ point guard Sergio Rodriguez. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
How to go about a Marcus Smart trade.
This is relatively straight-forward, as I’ve said from the beginning. This would be a trade relinquishing one of the big men, and with good reason. Ideally they’d shed Okafor first, but there’s really no reason to insert a preference. Both he and Noel need to go at some point, and Smart is a valuable asset to obtain for either of the two.
In terms of the logistics of the trades, it’s just as straight-forward. A one-for-one swap of either big for Smart works from a financial standpoint, and that alone makes a potential trade fairly easy to work out.
Marcus Smart is someone the Sixers could use long term.
The Sixers are attempting to construct a contender, and Marcus Smart is the type of piece that any contending team would benefit from. While it may not be as a starter long term, he’s still an elite defensive plug-in and high-energy reserve who can guard the opposition’s best offensive weapon at an elite level.
Much akin to Tony Allen in Memphis, Smart has the feel of somebody who can provide immense value to his team based almost solely on defense. He’s a physical specimen, and plays with a swagger and I.Q. that’s difficult to find in combination of the defensive side of the basketball.
He brings more versatility, helps relieve their frontcourt logjam to some extent, and gives them a great utility piece in almost any scenario. He’s 22-years-old, still learning, and already a worthwhile investment.
While everyone else is down on Smart’s stock, I’m trending in a different direction. He could be a sneaky good addition, and carve out the type of long term niche that can really endear him to team, and to a city, like Philadelphia.
He’s all grit, and the Sixers’ perimeter needs grit. They should be calling the Boston Celtics right now.