It's hard to think of a better microcosm for Marcus Smart’s game than his performance in the Boston Celtics' season opener in Cleveland. He was overly aggressive in the wake of Gordon Hayward's gruesome injury. The Celtics were reeling badly for most of the first half, and needed someone to take control. Smart attempted to fill the void as best he could, but the results were uninspiring.
In the first half, he shot 0-9 from the field, including an 0-for-3 effort from deep. Smart never found his stroke from behind the arc, finishing the contest 0-for-4, but managed to turn the game around with his defense and ability to attack the basket in the second half.
Smart scored or was fouled on post-ups on four of the Celtics final five trips down the court in the third quarter: twice against the taller Kyle Korver and once a piece against J.R. Smith and Derrick Rose. It was a critically important series of offensive possessions that left Boston trailing by just a single point. Suddenly, the misses Smart had launched from all over the court seemed more palatable. For all his poor shooting, Smart was a primary reason the Celtics were able to climb back into the game and briefly reclaim the lead.
Smart was more effective from deep in the Celtics’ second game against the Bucks. He hit on three of his seven three-point attempts, but struggled shooting the ball from everywhere else, finishing the night 4-13 from the field, and a remarkably bad 1-6 from the free throw line. Such is life with Smart. Sometimes he’s got it clicking from all over the floor. Sometimes he can’t hit from anywhere. Usually it’s some slightly below-average point in between the two poles.
It's not anything new. Smart has always been a deeply inconsistent offensive player, a truth driven almost exclusively by his streaky, and frequently sub-par, shooting. His defense and intensity never waver and he's good enough on that end of the court to always remain valuable, but that's only an acceptable style of play for a complementary player. If Smart wants to fill a more meaningful role—Boston may need him to given the apparent severity of Hayward's injury—then he has to find a way to consistently become a positive contributor on offense.
That may be as easy as being a bit more judicious when deciding whether or not to pull the trigger on his jump shot. Smart is a good passer and an effective post player. The Celtics can build all sorts of interesting sets by running the offense through him on the block, playing Kyrie Irving off the ball, and inverting the floor with bigs that can shoot. It's not a perfect fit for what Boston was likely planning to do, but it’s a reality of where the team is, given present circumstances.
Expecting him to function as a weapon on the offensive end might be a lot to ask of Smart. His role this year was to bring energy off the bench, and play great defense. Any offense was supposed to be gravy. Such was the luxury of having a deep roster. That depth no longer exists.
It's not really fair, but none of this is. Not for Smart. Not for the Celtics. Most definitely not for Gordon Hayward. The vacuum Hayward’s absence has created can't be ignored though and Smart is the most qualified player to help fill it. That his style of play varies so substantially is just one more variable for Brad Stevens to consider in attempting to build a cohesive identity for his brand new roster.
We’re only one game into the season, and it’s still plenty possible that Smart could grow into a consistent shooter. He put in a lot of work on his jump shot this summer and his stroke and numbers looked good in the preseason. However, the more likely outcome is that he won’t and we don’t need to beat him up for that.
The Celtics and their fans are just going to have to ride the wave at times. Keep the long view in mind and remember these first two games against the Cavs and Bucks the next time Smart is laying bricks. Know that an incredible steal, a bundle of post points and assists, or an impressive drawn charge isn’t far around the corner. In the aggregate Smart is going to help the team, even if it isn’t always pretty or conventional.