The trade of Rajon Rondo to the Dallas Mavericks last week was originally seen as the move that marked the official beginning of the Marcus Smart era in Boston. But despite his distinction as the sixth overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has been adamant in saying that Smart is in no way entitled to the role Rondo left behind as well as the minutes that come with it.
So far Stevens has stuck to his word through the first four games of the post-Rondo era, rolling out three different starting point guards in Smart (twice), Jameer Nelson (once) and Evan Turner (once). The Celtics went 1-3 in those games with their lone win coming against the Minnesota Timberwolves, a game in which Turner was the starter.
Versatility aside, it doesn’t seem as though Turner is being seriously considered as the Celtics’ next starting point guard and, given the fact Stevens chose him over Phil Pressey, it doesn’t appear to be within Pressey’s reach either.
That leaves Nelson and Smart as the two most obvious competitors for the job.
Regardless of who wins the full-time gig, Stevens says the Celtics are still committed to winning now. "This team is going to prepare everyday to win the game," Stevens told Bleacher Report’s Brian Robb. "The deal is, this is our team. This is how we are getting ready to win every single night. We are building every single night to be the best we can be."
That said, the question now becomes this: between Nelson and Smart, who is better suited to help the Celtics win right now?
The obvious answer would be Nelson. An eleven-year veteran, Nelson is battle tested, appearing in the playoffs six times and reaching one NBA Finals with the Orlando Magic back in 2009. He’s a career 37.9 percent shooter from three-point range and has averaged 5.3 assists per game in just over a decade of NBA service. He’s accomplished and he knows what it takes to both run a team and win games, making him a solid candidate to replace Rondo in the Celtics’ starting lineup.
Nelson is 32-years old, though, and it’s likely that he’s moved to a contender by the February trading deadline.
According to Shams Charania of RealGM, Nelson and the Celtics "have had preliminary discussions on his future role and ‘what if’ possibilities before the February trade deadline." Charania also noted that a buyout doesn’t seem likely, strengthening his candidacy as a trade chip.
Whether or not Nelson stays or goes shouldn’t make much of a difference, though. Despite his qualifications, it would be wise for Stevens to bring Nelson off the bench while Smart serves as the full-time starter.
Barring a trade, Smart is guaranteed to be in a Celtics uniform for at least four years and if Danny Ainge and Stevens didn’t believe he was the point guard of the future its likely that they would’ve gone in a different direction with the number six overall pick this summer. There’s nothing better than on-the-job training and Smart should be given the opportunity to learn from his mistakes while also having a guy like Nelson to seek advice from.
Besides, Smart has been solid in the 14 games he’s played so far this year, averaging 11.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.7 steals per 36 minutes. His shooting percentages could clearly use some work, though, as he’s shooting just 34 percent from the floor and 29 percent from beyond the arc. But his efficiency should improve as the season goes on and it’s refreshing to know that he’s shooting a crisp 40 percent on his corner threes.
While I agree with Stevens when he says Smart needs to earn the minutes, I believe the sooner Smart takes over as the starter, the better. Nelson is more of a role player at this point in his career and his uncertain future makes it even harder to consider starting Nelson over Smart rational.
Time will tell who gets the job and it could honestly go either way. But it would be in Boston’s best interest to get the show on the road as far as Smart is concerned. He can help the Celtics win games while also preparing himself for the days where the team is ready to compete at a higher level.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.