Marcus Smart and the three-point shot feel forever intertwined, locked at the hip in a Celtics system that demands spacing. The image of wild bricks flying through the sky contrasts with him dribbling twice between the legs and nailing a spot-up three with J.R. Smith in his face in the Eastern Conference Finals. There’s potential.
The 7/10 game will always represent the prospect of Smart the shooter perfectly. It was outrageous, unrepeatable and quintessentially him. As Evan Turner once said, you have to respect a low-percentage three-point shooter who has no reservations in unloading as many as 10 attempts.
Brad Stevens seems to have no issues with the shots, though. If anything they’re encouraged. Smart has built his basketball identity on defense and grit, but in three years he’s been trying to bridge offense into who he is.
It started with passing and the post. Smart’s assist percentage leaped from around 15 to 22 percent from 2016 to 2017, a standard mark for secondary ball handlers like Dwyane Wade and even Al Horford. Only Devin Booker and Jimmy Butler surpassed Smart’s 0.99 points-per-possession on post-ups among guards with one or more post possession per game.
Creating offense became Smart’s forte as a second-level guard, but the first thought that will come to most observer’s minds is the threes. They never stop, and they don’t occur like most shooters. There’ll be the occasional set-and-shoot shot behind the line, but often it’s step-backs, running jumpers from the corner, and he even pulled out the leaning foul-draw that’s seen more often from Isaiah Thomas in his heralded effort against the Cavs.
The win over Cleveland he orchestrated behind the line doesn’t speak to the thought of Smart as a shooter as much as the entire body of postseason work did. He was 39.7 percent on 73 attempts outside, notably better than Thomas’ mark of 33 percent on 108.
Poise was never a problem for Smart. He defines “shooting your shot”, but moments like Game Three have to transform into a body of work. Smart needs consistency, and it starts in the form more than the mindset.
"It's a different me" I guess Marcus Smart has been working on his range @smart_MS3 #ballislife #celtics pic.twitter.com/1AgzPUqJGA— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) June 25, 2017
Our own Jared Weiss has been all over Smart’s ball dip, a reoccurring issue where he throws off the whole flow of his shooting motion by adding an unnecessary drop of his arms before pulling back and releasing. In the video above, it’s visible on the bomb he misses.
Marcus was just shooting too close all year. Also this illustrates why he struggles. The misses come on the ball dip where he rushes release https://t.co/dvCd7YBjyf— Jared Weiss (@JaredWeissNBA) June 25, 2017
That’s become less prevalent, and the numbers have improved even if visually he still makes you scream “NO!” when he pulls up from three. He won’t be stopping though, so in that way it’s not a different Smart. The difference needs to come in consistency, and while it will be a process to get his wildly documented shot to a threatening level, the playoffs still show promise of what could be coming as Smart demands more opportunity.
It took Avery Bradley years to find the stroke that merits coverage. Smart has not taken the same exact route, but the journey is important. He’s a threat to take over games if he possesses a sound shot.
That’s what made game three tantalizing—not the shock of the moment, but the promise of that success becoming the future norm. For Smart, it’s vital to the ongoing definition of who he is on the court.