After two seasons spent starring at point guard for Oklahoma State, Marcus Smart entered the 2014 NBA draft with the reputation of being a bulldog of sorts. He wasn’t going to beat you with finesse or light you up from the outside, but what he was going to do was attack the rim relentlessly and lock you down on the defensive end.
For some reason, though, Smart’s aggressiveness in attacking the basket has waned in roughly his first season-and-a-half with the Celtics and it’s not entirely clear why. Smart himself has pointed to the nasty ankle sprain he suffered early on in his rookie year.
"Last year, my ankle injury held me back from a lot of things," Smart told the Boston Herald. "I couldn’t do a lot of things that I was capable of doing in college, like getting to the rim."
The injury clearly rattled Smart, just as it would most players. But it’s hard to believe the fear of re-injuring the ankle is what’s keeping him from driving more often than he currently does. Some may point to head coach Brad Stevens’ system, which mostly encourages playing as a unit rather than dribbling the air out of the ball in isolation (Isaiah Thomas being the deserved exception). Stevens is smarter than that, though. He’s not in the business of taking away his players’ greatest strengths and driving to the basket is easily Smart’s.
In college, Smart converted a ridiculous 57.3% of his looks at the rim, according to Draft Express. He also drew fouls on 31.3% of his transition attacks and 21.2% in the half court. Those are elite numbers and Smart has both the strength and athleticism to produce similar percentages at the pro level. And to some degree, he has.
This year Smart is shooting 48.8% on shots that NBA.com simply defines as a "layup." Admittedly, that number is a little less than eight percentage points below the current league average (56.1%). But break it down further to NBA.com’s "driving layup shot" and Smart gets a bump up to an impressive 65.4% conversion rate, a little more than four percentage points above the current league average.
It’s not the greatest sample size, as he’s only attempted 26 of those driving layup shots. But with so much success, it’s a wonder why he isn’t looking to do it more often.
Most of the problem stems from the fact Smart has seemingly fallen in love with the three-point shot. Despite a 31.5% career-clip from long range, 52.6% of his total career field goal attempts—twos and threes all included—have come from beyond the arc.
For comparison’s sake:
Curry, Allen and Miller are three of the greatest three-point shooters of all time. And while it might be a little unfair given Smart’s much smaller sample size, it's still not favorable for his percentage of threes to be exponentially higher than those snipers.
This isn't to say Smart should completely abandon the three. In fact, over the past couple of weeks he’s actually been rather hot from that area of the court.
What he should do, however, is put his head down and take it to the rim a few more times per game. It will keep the defense honest—which will ultimately help increase Smart's individual effectiveness and productivity—and it will also open up the outside for Boston's more established long range shooters. As Smart drives, the defense will have no other option but to collapse on him in the paint, making the drive-and-kick possibilities endless.
Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.