With Marcus Smart inactive for at least the next two weeks and conceivably four to six, there are murmurs that the former #6 pick in the draft could be injury prone. Many have made comparisons to the oft-injured Derrick Rose, but that's a little unfair. Rose is a slasher, twisting, turning, and torquing his body like a pretzel. That has put a lot of stress and pressure on his knees and that's what's plagued him for the last three seasons. Smart, on the other hand, is a hard charger. Whether it's on defense or on offense, he invites contact and forces the issue. His injuries, while avoidable, are not systemic.
Think of Rose as Tim Lincecum; both stars shined hard and bright when they were young, but because of all the repetitive motion, their bodies have taken their toll. Smart is more like Ben Roethlisberger in the sense that they both put themselves in difficult positions to make plays. They don't have to necessarily, but sometimes, it's those one or two plays that could make the difference in a game.
His injuries have just been dumb luck. The severe ankle sprain last season was caused on a stepped on shoe. Friday night's collision with Thomas Robinson was completely inadvertent. Maybe the dive for a loose ball in a meaningless summer league game was a little over the top, but this is why we love the guy.
This may be semantics because in the end, missed games are missed games. Neither Rose or Lincecum or Smart or Roethlisberger can affect the game if they can't play. But if we're being honest, of the four, Smart is the least statistically effective player of the group by far. Rose was an MVP, Lincecum won back-to-back Cy Young awards and is a three-time World Series champ, and Big Ben has two Super Bowls under his belt. In Smart's young career, he's averaged a modest 8 points and 3 assists. Could the Celtics really miss that over the next two months or, gulp, the rest of the year or even the rebuild?
The answer is yes. Smart's numbers will rise as soon as he's healthy, but for now, it's the intangibles that he brings to the table that gives the front office confidence when they consider him an important brick to the foundation of the franchise. Brad Stevens has said time and time again that Marcus Smart just makes winning plays and that doesn't always show up in the counting stats of a box score. Consider his contribution in that blowout win against the Rockets; he was +30 in game where he shot 1-for-11 and had five turnovers.
Now, here's another unfair comparison and a burden you don't want to put on a young player, but for my money, Smart reminds me so much of Larry Bird. He may never be the statistical equivalent of Bird, but few have shown the guts and drive to win like that of, in my humble opinion, the greatest Celtic ever. (I'd throw Rajon Rondo in that mix, too.) What makes them both deadly on the floor is their instincts coupled with the fact that they just don't want to lose.
In that Game 6 clincher, Bird put up a triple double, but like Bill Simmons and Bob Ryan suggest, his imprint on that game far extended past his numbers. He was everywhere, "a freaking maniac for three and a half quarters" "who read every play, every minds of the Rockets before they made every move." It's this offensive rebound, Bird winning this jump ball against Olajuwon, or reading this Dream Shake and getting the steal. That's the potential of Marcus Smart.
And if you think that you want to temper Smart's aggressiveness just a bit so that maybe he doesn't miss those 10-15 games a year and maybe extends his career an extra year or two, remember that even at a late age, Bird was still kicking butt in his twilight. That Game 5 against the Pacers is probably my favorite game of all time. He put up numbers that day, but his 32 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists didn't win that series for Boston. It was his spirit and gutsiness.
Smart is only 21-years-old and the Celtics are still in the process of rebuilding the team. Development can be a long process and you want to bring along guys slowly and steadily and it makes it difficult if they're going to miss 15-20 games a year early in their careers. My guess is that over the next few weeks while Smart is on the shelf, he'll get the "caution is the better part of valor" speech a few times and when he returns, maybe he'll reconsider diving after a ball in the first row.
But I hope not. Get well, kid.