A friend of mine who is only a casual fan of the NBA asked me this question last week: "Is Marcus Smart a better defender or three-point shooter?" It sounds like a silly question considering that Smart's prominent pre-draft weakness was his shooting, but it turns out that it's actually a pretty legitimate thing to ask 37 games into the rookie guard's campaign with the Boston Celtics.
That's because Smart is draining 35 percent of his three-pointers on the year; though that is right near the league average he has gone through scorching hot spurts, including a 42.4 percent stretch in January. It also doesn't hurt that he has knocked down 38.5 percent of his triples since December 1 when it matters most in the fourth quarter and overtime.
More on Smart
More on Smart
On BBallBreakdown.com I wrote a comprehensive analysis of the revisions Smart has made to his jump shot technique, which I believe has paid dividends in his newfound consistency shooting the ball. Smart's changes to his base, dip, and shot selection appear to have taken him to a new level, though he must continue to produce over a longer period of time to prove the alterations were a true success.
Regardless, so far Smart is shining, and his numbers are even more impressive when looking closely at SportVU and Synergy statistics:
Smart scores 1.28 points per possession on spot up shot attempts, which ranks sixth in the NBA of all qualifying players (minimum 70 possessions), and his 67.9 eFG percentage ranks fifth, according to Synergy Sports. Smart surprisingly finds himself amongst names like Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry, and Chris Paul, and of course he isn't at that level just yet, it sure is an encouraging start to his career.
Part of the reason Smart ranks so highly is because most of his spot up attempts come from three, so his points per possession and eFG percentage are naturally higher. SportVU allows us to look specifically at three-point attempts, where he's still hitting an impressive 41.3 percent, but that ranks just 36th (minimum 1.5 attempts per game).
Despite that reality, Smart has absolutely been one of the league's most excellent spot up shooters as we enter the All Star break, and he is no doubt the best rookie in that category (someone give me one good reason he's not playing in the Rising Stars game. You can't.). Smart's improvements are partially due to the fact he has learned how to hit shots with a hand in his face. Here are Smart's guarded versus unguarded catch and shoot stats history courtesy of Synergy Sports:
Smart has never had issues hitting uncontested catch and shoot baskets going all the way back to his freshman year at Oklahoma State, with an eFG percentage of 50 that has risen to 67.7 percent this season. But now it's his ability to hit guarded shots has made all the difference to his overall percentages.
Smart's SportVU numbers support the Synergy film study stats, as he's actually shooting the three-pointer better when contested than he is uncontested. This is still such an unexpected development for a rookie who was expected to struggle from behind the arc, but it serves as a prime example of why scouting the draft is not an exact science. Smart still has a long way to go when it comes to shooting off the dribble, as he has only hit 17.1 percent of his 35 three-point attempts, but you can only ask for so much from a player that hasn't even finished his rookie campaign.
Marcus Smart is arguably already one of the NBA's best perimeter defenders and he sure is performing like one of the best shooters, too. There are no guarantees that Smart will sustain this level of production on either end of the floor, but the Boston Celtics have to be ecstatic knowing he's performing at an excellent level both shooting and defending.