The Other Guys: Marcus Smart
The 2018-19 Boston Celtics sport a roster full of big names. Players like Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown and even Terry Rozier consistently bask in media attention and kind words from the NBA community.
There is, though, an unsung player who is as every bit as important to the Celtics’ championship contention: Marcus Smart.
Smart has been a bit of an enigma since the Boston Celtics took him with the 6th pick of the 2014 draft. Stuck somewhere between the point guard and shooting guard positions, the 6’4, 220 pound tank of a man has carved out a promising NBA career despite limitations on the offensive side of the ball.
Smart’s role on the Celtics has grown in each of his four seasons. The Oklahoma State product is now starting games routinely for the first time in his career, and the team has reaped the benefits of coach Brad Stevens’ early season rotation adjustment.
The Celtics started the season slowly, ending the month of November at 10-10. Stevens then officially inserted Smart into the starting lineup and the team has gone 27-14 since. Those 27 wins are the 5th most wins in the league in that span, which coincides with a top-five overall net rating during those 41 games as well.
Smart’s individual statistics by no means light up the box score: he’s averaging 8.2 points, 4.0 assists and 3.0 rebounds in 27.1 minutes of play. A closer look, however, shows just how much Smart has improved this season. He’s putting up a career-high field goal percentage of .398, a career-high three point percentage at .355 and a career-high 1.7 steals a game.
But the importance of Marcus Smart transcends the box score to something visceral. He is the prototypical player fans “love to have on their own team and opposing fans love to hate.” Smart plays with an unbridled confidence and passion that is just as likely to manifest itself in poor decisions and technical fouls as spectacular dives for loose balls, crucial defensive stops on opponents’ stars, and clutch dagger threes.
Celtics fans love that passionate side; Smart wears his heart on his sleeve and was visibly downtrodden after Tuesday night’s 23 point loss to the Toronto Raptors, telling reporters, “We’re just not together.” The more-talented-but-more-confounding Kyrie Irving said in reply: “I mean, that’s Marcus’s opinion” -- but it’s undoubtedly the opinion of many of the Boston faithful in an underperforming campaign, and they trust the team’s emotional leader to give that concern a voice.
Smart is a talisman for the Celtics on and off the hardwood. He might not get the attention the rest of his teammates receive, but it’s impossible to question his effort on the court and his impact on the Celtics’ success. Look for Smart to continue to play big minutes for the team as the regular season winds down, and continue to expand his leadership role as well.