Marcus Smart plays like a savage beast on the basketball court and it's absolutely beautiful to watch. Players who hustle their butts off always grab my attention whether I'm scouting players or just watching games for enjoyment, and that has been the case with Smart the past two years at Oklahoma State.
But Smart isn't in Stillwater anymore after being drafted by the Boston Celtics with the No. 6 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Smart's now a rookie in Boston and not the best player on the floor like he was in college, so what kind of expectations should be set for him?
Immediate defensive impact
Smart is unique since I think he will be an immediate difference maker on the defensive end of the floor, which can't be said of many rookies. After averaging 5.1 rebounds and 3.3 steals per 40 minutes pace adjusted, Smart projects to be an effective pro defender from day one.
At 6-foot-3, with an 81-inch wingspan and outstanding lateral quickness, Smart will be able to engulf point guards, but he's also built like a freight train so he should be able to cover two-guards and some small forwards. This versatility will win him playing time in Brad Stevens' defensive system, which prefers its perimeter defenders to switch on the pick-and-roll if the situation is right.
Yet, that still sells Smart short. He's not just a physical specimen, but also a cerebral player who rarely makes defensive errors. Smart clearly had some good coaching from a young age considering his ability to properly rotate, angle ball handlers into the big on the pick-and-roll, and fight through both on- and off-ball screens. The 20-year-old guard doesn't need much encouragement to stay mentally engaged on the defensive end, as he never takes plays off.
Smart is also adept at chasing down loose rebounds, an often overlooked aspect of defense (because a possession isn't over until the rebound is secured). With such a strong frame, Smart is able to put on his big boy pants and battle down low; if he grabs the board he is very good at powering the ball in transition, creating offense with his defense.
Marcus Smart's combination of speed, length, and size is quite rare at his position. Scouts have told Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix that Smart could be the league's "next great perimeter defender," which certainly echoes my beliefs about his future.
Shooting progression will be slow
There is a lot of ridiculous talk that drafting Smart put the nail in the coffin for Rajon Rondo's tenure with the Celtics, but that's garbage. Smart's presence could definitely ease the pain of losing Rondo, but nothing is set in stone.
However, some of the talk about how Rondo and Smart will co-exist on the court is certainly justified. Neither player is very efficient at hitting spot-up jumpers, which raises questions about their ability to complement each other and space the floor effectively.
Smart was a paltry 29.2 percent jump shooter in the half court, according to Hoop-Math.com. Even though he hit 45.7 percent of his open spot-up jumpers, according to Draft Express, open opportunities will be few and far between in the NBA. Only 10 of Smart's 35 half court three-pointers were unassisted, which means he was not at all productive at creating his own shot on the perimeter.
Those same weaknesses translated to the Orlando Summer League, where Smart shot only 25.7 percent on 35 three-point attempts. Even though he was solid at creating space for himself, the shots just aren't falling yet.
Some fans like to think of Smart as the second coming of Russell Westbrook, but they must put a wet towel on those burning hot expectations. Unless Smart has made a large improvement to his messy mechanics since the summer, he will initially struggle shooting the ball. It will likely be years before Smart develops a reliable jump shot.
Offensive usage should be consistent
Smart might have an underdeveloped jumper, but he is already quite good at absorbing contact and scoring in the paint. Whether his baskets come via off-ball cuts, drives, or low post opportunities, Smart has a knack for getting the ball through the cylinder. I'd like the coaches to make it clear to Smart that they want to put his size to good use by focusing much of his usage into the paint.
With some capable three-point shooting bigs like Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger, Boston could potentially play a flipped style, with Smart down low and the bigs outside. This could be a nightmare for opposing defenses since so few teams use guards on the low post.
Despite Smart's aptitude for scoring down low, the majority of his at-rim baskets will come from drives off of the wing. When defenders over-commit on their close outs, Smart should be able to bully his way to the rim, which he excelled at in college. He got to the line 9.9 times per 40 minutes and had an outstanding 0.65 FTA/FGA.
Smart is mostly limited to straight-line drives, but it didn't matter in college since he was so much more powerful than everyone else. He will probably turn the ball over more often in the pros, but I would like to see the Celtics continue to use him here as a means of helping him develop secondary dribbles, as well as some savvy change-of-pace and change-of-direction moves.
Decision-making must improve
Smart's decision-making at the college level was not very...smart -- get ready for the puns from writers this season -- but I am expecting him to make an improvement this season.
Even when cars were zooming up and down the road, Smart had the green light to go in college. He got across the road safely plenty of times, but his subpar 1.78 assist-to-turnover ratio and 46.1 eFG percentage in the half court need to improve quite a lot. This should happen by default since Stevens and the staff will give him the red light this season.
If Smart's given a clear role, such as deferring to a teammate instead of chucking a contested jumper, then I think he will succeed as much as any rookie can in a true point guard role. He shouldn't be expected to be a filthy playmaker like Rondo, but Smart's ability to handle the ball puts him far ahead of a non-point guard like a young Avery Bradley.
I mention Bradley here because I've seen some rumblings about Smart going down that path as a complete shooting guard, which isn't at all the case. Bradley could barely get the ball passed half court as a rookie, and Smart will have no issues in doing that. Smart should develop into a fine combo guard by historical standards, which is really just a "point guard" in the NBA.
But who needs restrictive positions anyway?
Marcus Smart can ball, that's the bottom-line.
If there's one thing fans should expect from Smart, it's for him to give 100 percent effort and toughness every minute he's on the floor. I guarantee that you'll get that.
Here is my full scouting report of Marcus Smart from my 2014 NBA Draft Guide.