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Marcus Smart & Terry Rozier: Pineapple on pizza

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Does Boston’s dynamic guard duo work well in tandem, or are they as divisive as an odd food combination?

NBA: Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Lakers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Pineapple doesn’t belong on pizza. It’s an odd combination of sweet tanginess and salty cheesiness, and it’s genuinely gross. Separately, there’s nothing wrong with either pineapple or pizza. Together, though? Terrible. It’s an abomination, honestly. If you love Hawaiian pizza or just plain pineapple on pizza, this probably isn’t the article for you.

Marcus Smart is pizza and Terry Rozier is pineapple. Personally, I’m a fan of both the players and their food counterparts. It’s when these elements intersect that a problem forms. Both are “point guards” by definition, and they both spent time at the position running the offense. However, as last season demonstrated, these two don’t work well together, and this is supported by both the numbers and the eye test.

Rozier and Smart shared the floor for a combined 945 minutes together, per NBAWowy. In those 945 minutes, here is Marcus Smart’s +/- across the whole season:

Smart’s +/- with Rozier
statmuse.com

To put that number into context, that’s the lowest on court/off court numbers that Smart posted with any regular rotation member coming off the bench last season. The only worse +/- that Smart posted last season with a rotation player was a +20 (abysmal by comparison) with Avery Bradley. With other bench players, Smart has good metrics, and with the starters, his numbers look even better. Therefore, it’s logical to assume that Rozier has a negative impact on Smart’s game.

NBA: Playoffs-Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

But wait, there’s more. Rozier also negatively impacts Smart’s shooting as well and vice versa. Neither of these two are lights out shooters by any means, but they get even worse when they share the floor. Rozier shot 30% from three which is not shockingly worse than Smart’s 23% from three in those minutes together. Smart’s cringe-worthy shooting while on the court with the guy who likes spaghetti and sugar sandwiches doesn’t stop there, but I’ll spare your eyes the discomfort.

How do things change when these two are apart? Smart’s 3-point percentage pole vaults up to 35% (from 23% with Rozier), and his effective field-goal percentage leaps from 39% to 45.5% when Rozier is on the bench. As for Rozier, when Smart is not on the floor, his 3-point shooting climbs up to 36.8% and his effective field-goal percentage topped out at 47.7% (up from 42.7% with Smart).

I just threw a lot of numbers at you. What it suggests is that statistically speaking, pineapple and pizza do not belong together, and what I mean by that is that Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier should spend the least amount of time together as possible. Why is that?

There’s a stylistic difference in the games of both Rozier and Smart; although both are “point guards” in name, only one of them is actually a point guard. Rozier is not a point guard by any means, but Brad Stevens spent extensive time running Rozier at the one. In fact, basketball-reference.com measured Rozier playing 73% of his minutes at the point guard position. This is a problem because, again, Rozier is not a point guard.

Marcus Smart is a point guard. Yes, he’s an awful shooter, but he’s far from being an awful offensive player. He has a good feel for the pick-and-roll, he is an excellent passer, and his passing out of the post is really solid. However, due to his size, defensive ability, and team fit, Smart often does not get to spend time at his most natural position: the point guard position (he spent 66% of his minutes as a shooting guard last season). What’s truly mind-boggling here is why Stevens spent so much time last season trying to fit Rozier and Smart into round holes when they’re square pegs.

NBA: Playoffs-Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

In order to truly maximize the talent of these two players, they need to play roles that get the most out of their abilities. Rozier is a solid spot up shooter, and he can provide offense in spurts. While he does need to work on his finishing ability, his slashing and spot-up shooting are more valuable than what he can’t do. He can’t run an offense.

Marcus Smart is a decent slasher, but he’s not a “stand in the corner and shoot” kind of player. He can’t provide instant offense like Rozier does, but he can run an offense.

Stylistically and statistically, evidence shows that Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart should share the least amount of time together as possible. In my head, that means that Marcus Smart should start and the bench unit should run a free-flowing offense instead of relying on a single pick-and-roll dominant facilitator. This would allow for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to get more touches, and it allows Rozier to use his speed and quickness (two very different things) to get himself the looks he needs.

With the way this roster is constructed, however, it’s inevitable that Smart and Rozier will need to share time on the court together. How can they maximize their possessions on the court? Smart has to initiate the offense most of the time. Rozier spends way too much time dribbling and missing passes. When Smart is off ball while this happens, opposing defenses can just ignore him behind the 3-point line because he simply isn’t a reliable threat from deep (although he was solid from the corner).

This isn’t to say that the Celtics need to dump the ball to Smart and let him pick-and-roll the other team to death. There can still be solid movement, and Rozier helps in those situations more as opposed to his normally erratic style of play. Here’s an example of a set that utilizes movement from one side of the floor to the other culminating in a Smart 3-pointer:

In this clip, the team uses Rozier as a distraction coming off a pin down to draw attention to the left wing. After receiving the pass, floor-spacing Jonas Jerebko flares out to the corner before taking a hard dive to the rim leaving the defense confused and Smart open in the corner for three.

Although Smart wasn’t the initiator of that set, this play wisely used Rozier’s strength as an off-ball threat to open up the floor. This play had a few options as well. Deron Williams’ back was turned to Smart, but if he had recovered quicker, Smart would have had a pick-and-roll opportunity with Jerebko or even a 1-2 pick-and-roll with Rozier. Sets like these that maximize both player strengths have to become the norm if they spend time together.

Ideally, Rozier and Smart would share minimal time together just like how we should all consume the least amount of pineapple pizza possible in our lifetimes. Starting Marcus Smart and having a pace and space second-unit offense would make this endeavor much easier. It’ll happen occasionally, though, so Boston has get the most out of those possessions. Just like when you’re stuck at a party and all there is left to eat is Hawaiian pizza, the Celtics have to really see if it’s really worth it in playing these two talented players together for long stretches.