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The impact of Marcus Smart's playing time on his development

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Despite his rough outings recently, Smart should be playing more minutes.

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Marcus Smart has had an up and down start to his rookie campaign. One day he's getting admiration from Kevin Garnett, and the next day he's getting benched for large stretches of the game. His playing time has shown the same volatility as well. Despite being the sixth overall pick, he's only averaging 18.7 minutes per game. Player development isn't an exact science by any means, but I think this lack of experience could end up hurting Smart. The more he can play, the quicker he can adjust to the NBA. Comparing his rookie year with the rookie years of other prominent point guards could put his season in perspective. The chart below shows the rookie year data of some of the top point guards playing today, and Deron Williams.

Age

MPG

TOV/100 Poss

Paul

20

36

3.5

Curry

21

36.2

4

Westbrook

20

32.5

5.3

Wall

20

37.8

5.1

Rose

20

37

3.5

Irving

19

30.5

5.4

Lillard

22

38.6

4

Rondo

20

23.5

3.9

Parker

19

29.4

3.6

Dragic

22

13.2

5

Conley

20

26.1

3.2

Williams

21

28.8

3.4

Average

20.33

30.8

4.15

Smart

20

18.7

3.7

There is a pretty clear trend in terms of minutes played. Apart from Dragic, every one of these players averaged over 20 minutes per game. The average is just north of 30 minutes per game. Practice and watching tape is helpful, but the impact of game reps can't really be replicated. These players weren't hampered by heavy minutes in their rookie years, so I wouldn't be concerned about it happening to Smart either.

The turnover column is of note too. It might feel like Smart is making too many turnovers, but the numbers don't necessarily support that. He's committing fewer turnovers per 100 possessions than the majority of players on this list. (The possession data is useful because it can help control for the effects of pace.) Turnovers are inevitable for even the best point guards in the NBA. That doesn't excuse Smart's bad decision making, but it shows he shouldn't be buried for those mistakes either. He needs a certain amount of leeway for errors. Turnovers and bad decisions are a frustrating part of the learning process. If he can't get experience running the point now, those problems will come into play down the road.

With Rondo gone Smart's playing time should increase naturally. But if Jameer Nelson continues to play substantial minutes, I'm a little more doubtful. Nelson is a useful player, but his veteran presence and floor spacing isn't as valuable on a team losing 60% of its games. I don't see his trade value eclipsing a 2nd round pick either, so I'd rather some of those minutes be given to Smart. There's a certain belief in a player "earning his minutes." I agree with that in theory, but I think that's misguided in this case. By all accounts his work ethic is excellent and he plays hard. It's too dismissive for my tastes to attribute Smart's lack of minutes to a lack of effort.

The last item to consider is Avery Bradley. Nothing is set in stone with Danny Ainge at the helm, but I would assume Bradley's 30 million dollar contract means he is here to stay. A little continuity would shed some light on the effectiveness of a Smart-Bradley backcourt. They've only played 126 minutes together, but they're getting outscored by 6.6 points per 100 possessions. They certainly have the potential to form a dominant defensive tandem, but they still need time to mesh offensively. That process is better suited now, rather than a time when this team has a real shot at competing in the playoffs.

The way the Celtics are currently constructed, I care more about player development than wins. That might sound blasphemous, but it should lead to a possible championship quicker. It's a pyrrhic victory for a non-playoff team to sacrifice development for wins that are borderline meaningless. Marcus Smart is going to make mistakes, I just want him to have to the chance to make great plays too.

All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com