This morning, the buzz will be about Terry Rozier's breakout game and how he could be a difference maker down the road for the Celtics. Rozier might find spot minutes here and there this season if the team is battling injuries or needs a spark off the bench, but for now, Boston is fairly deep with bench ball handlers in Isaiah Thomas and Evan Turner.
And all those guys are behind Marcus Smart on the depth chart. If I'm being honest, I was very skeptical about Smart's future as a point guard. Defensively, there's no doubt that he belongs in this league, but as a point guard, I've had my doubts. Last season, he seemed to have one speed (FULL BLAST) and his shot selection was to be desired. He has attributed a lot of his tentativeness as a rookie to his ankle injury and after a summer of healing, he's shown the style of play that made him an attractive pick coming out of Oklahoma State.
Against the Nets, he picked up right where he left off from in his summer league performances and the two games in Europe. I was really impressed with his ability to hit the roll man with pinpoint bounces on his pocket passes. That's definitely something he's worked on this summer.
Smart's not particularly tall so he can't look over the defense, but when the Nets blitz him on the pick and roll, he calmly keeps his dribble alive, finds an angle to deliver a pass, and hits Tyler Zeller for a baby hook. That's patience he didn't have a year ago. He's slowed himself down and in part, the game seems to have slowed down for him, too.
Here's another good example of Smart changing speeds, a skill that is absolutely necessary if you're going to be a primary ball handler in the NBA. Because Brooklyn doesn't really commit to either ICEing him or containing the roll, Smart takes a second for the hole to develop, crosses his defender over, and hits the gap aggressively. Smart thrives in contact, but he only averaged 2.5 FTA per-36 minutes last season. In his sophomore season at OSU, he averaged 8.1. That starting five could be offensively challenged, so Smart's ability to suck in defenses and also get to the line could be very important at the start of the first and third quarters.
Another sweet pocket pass to the cutting Zeller on the baseline.
And another, Rondoesque.
More patience here on the re-screen and roll with Amir Johnson. Smart didn't dance like this in 2014-2015, but with the floor spaced out like this, it'll be important for Smart to be able to keep defenses on their heels and make the right pass when it becomes available. It won't always be this easy and it won't just be to the roll man. His next progression will have to be his ability to throw cross court passes to shooters like James Harden and LeBron James.
Smart also worked off ball in this game, starting alongside Evan Turner and being paired with Rozier at times. He shot threes when they were available and in the flow of the offense (making 1-of-4) and drove the ball as a swing man. This failed alley-oop will go down as a turnover for Smart, but it's the right pass at the right time. In Bradspeak, it's a good basketball play that just gets fumbled.
Oh, yeah. Smart also had the loudest dunk at the TD Garden so far on a put back, so there's that, too. Smart showed a lot of versatility last night--whether it's taking charges, diving on the floor for loose balls, or quarterbacking the defense--and he's becoming one of the leaders of this young team. Most importantly, he's growing into his primary role as the team's point guard.