Marcus Smart is a lot of things on the basketball court. He’s a fierce competitor that won’t back down against anyone. He’s also a notorious flopper, willing to sell any contact to get a call. He’s a defensive ace that can guard nearly every position. He’s an offensive liability that teams can flat out ignore at times. He’s a guy that earned multiple nicknames in “the junkyard dog” and “the cobra”. But most importantly for the Celtics, he’s the guy that inspired the term winning plays for this timely heroics.
His defense was the strongest part of his game this season. Smart consistently provides aggressive perimeter defense, and can even mix it up inside when the Celtics play small. He led the team in steals, deflections, and was third in blocks. He finished as the best Celtics guard in DRPM, ESPN’s fancy stat measuring defensive impact.
Smart actually made some strides this season on offense. Smart is getting to the line more often, and his FT% has increased each season in the league. He improved his scoring in the post, and was rewarded with almost triple the possessions compared to last season, per Synergy. Smart actually passed more frequently out of post-up looks this season, compared to last season. This really added to his effectiveness. Counting passes, Smart was top-5 in efficiency among with players with at least 100 post possessions, per Synergy.
He may be the most talented passer on the team too. That ability is what made him an effective pick and roll player despite his lack of scoring. Per synergy, Smart placed in the 82nd percentile when passing out of the pick-and-roll.
That brings us to the biggest problem with Smart’s game: scoring.
Smart struggled basically everywhere. His finishing was poor. His outside shooting was only good in the left corner. Marcus Smart, given his volume, is one of the worst three-point shooters in the history of the league. He shot 28% on 332 attempts, one of the worst marks ever.
A excuses have popped up to explain some of this. Smart takes plenty of contested/late shot clock attempts and heaves at the end of quarters. That’s sort of true. Smart was second only to Steph Curry in FGA greater than 40 feet, and takes relatively more late shots compared to his teammates. But that’s not enough attempts to really skew the data.
Also, 78% of his three-point attempts were at least "open", and 39% were "wide open", per NBA.com. He shot just 27% on the wide-open attempts. I don't care how many late attempts or heaves he's taking, shooting that poorly on wide open threes is not encouraging.
Not to get all "Marcus Smart is a land of contrasts", but it's hard to know exactly how valuable Smart is. You can quantify almost anything in the NBA now. Smart’s “winning plays” are no exception. Every time he’s ripped the ball away from an opponent, tipped a pass, or fought for a loose ball at a key time, it’s been recorded. But it still feels like these plays mean a little more to the team. Smart brings a level of intensity to the court that seems to ignite something in everyone else. He does all the little things, and that’s why the good outweighs the bad with him.
You can’t overstate how important next season is for Smart. It’s his last year under his rookie contract. Ainge reportedly floated his name in trade talks last offseason, so nothing is certain. But if he keeps adding to his game, he’s going to get paid by someone in free agency next summer. The only question becomes whether it’s the Celtics that do it.