- Evan Dyal
The Marcus Smart Experience
Perhaps there is no more unique player in the NBA than Marcus Smart. In a league full of shooting, Smart can't shoot. Defensively he can guard all five positions and is one of the best and most versatile defenders in the NBA. His hustle and energy are contagious. He also has turnovers that make Celtics fans throw the remote.
The Marcus Smart experience is full of ups and downs. Despite limitations, Smart has found ways to be productive on both ends of the floor. He certainly helps the team win, as the Boston Celtics are 23-6 and have the best record in the east. There are several holes in his offensive game, and they may be exposed more in the playoffs, but for now, Brad Stevens has found ways to make Smart useful on that end. Here is a look at how the Celtics deploy Smart on both ends of the floor.
If you look at Smart's season stats, you would probably say yuck. Smart is averaging 9.4 points, 5.1 assists, and 3.8 rebounds on 32% shooting from the field and 29% from three. He is not much better from the line either as he only shoots 72% on just 2.7 attempts per game. His 44 percent true shooting percentage is one of the worst marks in the league for a player who plays 30 minutes per game. Add it up, and Smart is having his worst scoring season as a pro. His PER is a ghastly 9.17, the lowest mark of his career. There is no question Smart has regressed a little offensively. The reason why is well he is not doing anything well in terms of scoring.
According to synergy sports Smart ranks in the 7th percentile overall on offense. Obviously terrible. As a pick and roll ball handler, he ranks in the 25th percentile, on spot ups he ranks in the 16th percentile, post-ups 18th percentile, transition 8th percentile, and isolation 27th percentile. Woof. Even on cuts and putbacks two things that could help him overcome his lack of shooting, he ranks in the 4th and 7th percentile respectively. These are the numbers of one of the worst offensive scoring players in the league.
So he is struggling both on and off the ball scoring wise. Here is the good part, Smart is a pretty good passer. His 27.9 assist ratio is a career high, and when you look at his offensive numbers with passing Smart jumps from the 7th percentile to the 51st. Smart has a career-high usage rate, and the problem with that is it has led to a career-high turnover ratio at 14.
This is a take the good with the bad scenarios. Stevens will live with some Smart turnovers because he knows he will make some great passes as well. Here is the number that sums it up. Smarts assist to usage percentage according to Cleaningtheglass.com is 1.10, one of the best marks among all guards. His turnover percentage is 16.8 percent, one of the worst marks among all guards. But despite the turnovers, Smart always makes the extra pass. Watch this!
Smart starts the play with a pick and roll with Daniel Theis. He feeds Theis on the roll, and Theis kicks it out o Irving in the corner. Irving then swings it, and it ends up to Smart who instead of taking a contested three makes the extra pass to Semi Ojeleye for the easy corner three. Smart always makes the extra pass.
Look further, and its apparent Smart cant create for himself consistently. There is nowhere on the court where he is accurate or efficient. 49 percent of all Smart makes were assisted this season. A very high mark for a player that has the usage rate Smart does. Now, here is the surprising start.
Despite all the stats I just listed the Celtics outscore teams by 9.6 points when Smart is on the floor. It's not only defense either. Boston is six points per possession better when Smart is on the floor. There effective field goal percentage, free throw rate and offensive rebound percentage all improve when Smart is on the floor.
Smart helps in little ways on offense. He has a shockingly high foul rate, meaning he gets fouled on the floor as frequently as any guard in the league. This leads to the Celtics getting the bonus quicker and getting more free throws. A good thing since Boston is 13th in free throw percentage.
His willingness to pass and his ability to find the open man gets better looks for Boston. That is why their effective field goal percentage improves. Smart is second on the team in assist ratio and also third in offensive rating. Only Kyrie Irving and Al Horford have better offensive rating numbers.
Part of it is also screening. Smart is sixth in screen assists on the Celtics in 0.4 per game. A good but not great mark. Clever passing, drawing fouls, a few extra offensive rebounds and good screens are the positives you get with Smart on offense. It's mainly the fact that he accounts for 34% of all of Boston's assists that make him an asset on offense. There is also something to be said for shooting the open shot. Despite limited success, Smart never loses confidence.
He still shoots 9.4 shots per game, including 4.4 threes per game. Sometimes shooting a wide-open shot is better than stalling and ruining a possession. Smart will keep shooting and he should for now.
Now the awesome stuff. Defense. Smart is ridiculously strong, quick and plays like every play is his last. He leads the team in deflections per game, charges drawn and is fourth in contested shots. You have to love his heart. That is a big reason in why he is second on the team in defensive rating. Here is how Smart helps Boston's team defense. Watch this effort
Here is a game last year at Indiana, Smart comes over to stop the penetrating Monta Ellis, gets the strip and then sprints to save it from going out of bounds and hits it off, Thaddeus Young. Tremendous effort.
Boston allows 3.6 points less per 100 possessions with Smart on the floor, the opposing teams effective field goal percentage drops 1.6 percent, Boston forces 1.7 percent more turnovers and allows 5.9 percent less offensive rebounds. Smart doesn't get a lot of boards, but he is excellent at boxing out.
He is the best on the perimeter. Smart is an absolute bulldog that terrorizes ball handlers and forces them in to help. He takes away a lot of threes. What's amazing is he plays physical defense without fouling much. Smart only fouled on 3.4 percent of plays and that is with having above average block and steal rates.
On the perimeter Smart is tenacious. Opponents just 35 percent on him in between 15 and 19 feet, 38 percent between 20 and 24 feet and 28 percent from anything deeper. A lot of this is due to his ability to switch across all five positions. Watch this play defending the king!
LeBron James brings it up the court and Smart strips him, but LeBron gets the ball back. Smart recovers and LeBron drives again, Smart strips him again and forces the ball off James and out of bounds. One of the best individual defensive plays you will see all season. Only a handful of players in the league can make this play on Lebron.
Individually Smart ranks in the 76th percentile defensively. Unlike offense, he is above average in every category. Defending the pick and roll, he only allows a 37 percent score frequency, off screens only 33 percent. Smart is so strong he is almost impossible to screen. He really has no considerable weakness on defense.
That is why four of the top five Boston defensive lineups that have played at least 15 minutes have included Smart. The best lineup is Smart, Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier, Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis. A massive switch everything lineup. It's clear Smart helps his team on defense and the pros outweigh the cons on the other end.
He is in all of their top five offensive lineups. The question is will that hold up in the playoffs, or will Smart's weaknesses be exposed? In the playoffs, every weakness is magnified. Inability to shoot can especially be exposed in the playoffs.
Looking back to last year’s playoffs Smart was in three of the top five offensive lineups. In best lineups overall he was in four out of five. In some matchups yes it may be a problem at times. However, Boston has enough shooting to mitigate the problem.
If they surround Smart with Horford, Irving, Brown, and Tatum that's four other at least average shooters. Rozier and Morris can also shoot at an average level from deep. Not lethal shooters but good. That is why Boston is eight in three-point makes, despite 17th in percentage. Don't be surprised if Boston tried to add one more shooter at the deadline.
Marcus Smart is not good at scoring or shooting that is a fact. I'm sure his percentages will go up slightly because he can't be worse, but he will likely always be below average in that department. That has not shaken his confidence. He is unselfish and does whatever it takes to win. Defensively he is special; offensively he has found a way to be useful despite limitations. In the playoffs, there may be some issues, but I wouldn't bet against him. Enjoy the Marcus Smart experience everyone, it's one of a kind!