I know, I know. I understand this has been discussed before, but people just aren’t getting this right. To me, it’s not that close. A classic case of take your pick. I will reiterate this again: The Celtics should resign Marcus Smart at the end of this season.
It’s evident that Celtics Nation is split down the middle in the Marcus Smart versus Terry Rozier debate. So, who should it be? If you are in the group that sides with letting Smart walk, think about this. If Smart is/was expendable, and not part of the Celtics future plans, why didn’t President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge trade him at the deadline for another asset? It’s simple: because he knows how valuable Smart is. They need him to compete for a title. Every championship team has the classic grinder that will fight for loose balls, make winning plays, and provide leadership in the locker room. Put a check mark next to those abilities under Smarts name.
If you don’t believe me, have a look for yourself. The 2017 champion Golden State Warriors had Draymond Green. If not a star in this league he’s close to it. He is still considered a grinder/x-factor type player. He averaged 11 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists per game during the 2017 Finals. Five players had a higher usage percentage than him (Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Matt Barnes, Klay Thompson and Ian Clark, in that order), similar to where Smart ranks right now with Boston (Kyrie Irving, Greg Monroe, Marcus Morris, Jaylen Brown, and Rozier). And if you don’t like Monroe being in the mix, because he was just recently acquired, Smart would sit at fifth in usage percentage, showing that he does not need the ball in his hands to be a regular in Steven’s rotation (fifth on the team in minutes per game).
When Cleveland was crowned a city of champions in 2016, they had the likes of Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert, known defenders and hustlers. And back when Cleveland and Golden State weren’t in the finals, the Spurs had the likes of Patty Mills and Danny Green, scrappy defenders (Green especially as he could guard multiple positions). Well you may say, “But Green and Mills can shoot! Smart can’t shoot!” You are right, at this very moment in time. Smart is in fact having trouble shooting from downtown this season (just 29.6%), but we have seen the potential for Smart to be a consistent threat before. According to Boston.com, back in in the 2014-15 season, Smart passed Paul Pierce in rookie three pointers made in a season (91). Smart can improve his shooting, and my guess is that he will within the next year or two.
Let’s switch gears to Terry Rozier. I understand he got a triple-double in his first NBA start, but let’s not jump to some crazy conclusions. Celtics Wire reporter Jared Weiss mentioned in the video above that Rozier wants to be a starter and that’s a known fact. ESPN’s Jeff Goodman said the same thing on Bob Ryan’s Boston Podcast last week.
I agree, he has the talent to start on a bad team, put up 15 points and grab five boards a game. He’s one of the Celtics better two-way players. A spark plug that comes off the bench, with energy and a willingness to take it to the rack, hit that timely halftime buzzer beater, and also play solid defense. But not better defense than Smart. Cue the sound of a broken record playing, but Smart is one of the best defenders in the NBA. He has guarded the likes of LeBron James, Kristaps Porzingis, Russell Westbrook, and Curry. Notice all of those guys play different positions. Versatility is something that every team in the NBA strives for today and if I had to use one one to describe Smart, you guessed it right. It would be versatile.
I get it. Rozier is the sexier choice: triple double, he’s a year younger, and he’s a better shooter. But if I’m Brad Steven’s, I’d want the guy that will make the defensive play to save the game (i.e. Smart versus James Harden in December), while you have players like Irving, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, and eventually next year Gordon Hayward, who are all either respectable or nock-down shooters.
When was the last time the C’s had a player like Smart? I say Tony Allen back in 2009-2010. Allen was the go to defender in tight game situations. He continued to excel defensively when he left Boston, and Memphis will someday be rewarding him with the retirement of his jersey because of his efforts.
Smart can be better than Allen. He has the mindset and leadership to do it. But he needs to prove to Ainge during Boston’s playoff run that he’s worth the money. Ainge will be making his decision sooner rather than later, and if Smart wants to stick around Boston, he may just want to spend his summer behind the three point line.