Marcus Smart was very good as a rookie. This year he's going to be even better.
There are a number of reasons I could give for being confident in that statement.
For one thing, he'll be a year older. Rookies tend to go through an adjustment period before they can make a real impact in the league and now Smart has had a full season plus a playoff appearance under his belt.
He will also benefit from another year under the expert tutelage of Brad Stevens and his coaching staff.
Furthermore, it has been reported that Smart suffered from lingering ankle issues for a lot of the season. In theory, he's had an offseason to heal up and should be fresh for the season.
Finally, he already showed some progress in the Summer Leagues, where he was clearly head and shoulders ahead of most of the guys in the gym.
With all that said, the number one reason why I am confident in Marcus Smart is his drive. He simply wants it more than the next guy. This is most obvious on defense, where he simply outworks the ball handler. But that work ethic translates itself into all aspects of his game. Just ask his coach.
"Emotionally, he sees the game," Stevens said. "He's mentally focused, he's sharp in walk-throughs, he's sharp in games, and he makes the right reads, so I'd say physically, mentally and emotionally, he's just ahead of the curve at 21."
Smart himself puts it more succinctly.
"I like to think I'm the most competitive rookie in my class, I just try to keep that competitive edge."
There are times when that competitive edge boils over into trying too hard or making emotional mistakes. But maturity and good coaching should smooth over some of those rough edges in time. His jump shot was inconsistent last year, but Brad Stevens was consistent in giving him the green light to shoot through his cold streaks.
Smart has natural leadership qualities that will come out more as he gains experience. He was making a more concerted effort to drive into the paint during Summer League and that should improve his impact on offense. Having a couple of new veteran bigs (Lee and Johnson) that know how to play the pick and roll should help him as well.
Celtics fans want to see Marcus Smart become a star player that the team can build around. That's a lot of pressure to put on a player with just one year of experience under his belt. The good news for everyone is that Marcus Smart wants that for himself even more than we do.