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Summer film school: Why we pay Marcus Smart the big bucks

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NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to another installment of Celtics Summer Film School. Yes, it’s still summer until September 22nd. Today, we’re going to take a look at a player I never talk about (read: a player I almost exclusively talk about): Marcus Smart. He just recently received a 4-year contract in restricted free agency after a couple weeks of drama, and for the foreseeable future, he will continue to be a Boston Celtic.

Plenty has been made about Smart’s outside shooting, but not enough has been made of his inside shooting (which, in my opinion is a bigger area of concern). In terms of what he does well, a lot has been made of his positional versatility, and rightfully so. It can really swing a two-possession stretch on both ends, and that’s the focus of today’s film segment:

In this possession, the Celtics run their usually tight perimeter defense, and that leads to the taller, “stronger” Jeff Green seeing Marcus Smart in isolation on defense and making the decision to post him up.

Haha.

Obviously, Marcus Smart is a whole lot more than a 6’4” guard. He’s a multi-positional defender who can do much more than just hold his own in the post. This is really valuable because Boston actually had an ultra small lineup on the floor in this instance. The Celtics were running essentially four guards and Al Horford. Three ballhandlers in Kyrie Irving, Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart along with swingman Jaylen Brown.

In such a small lineup, it’s easy for opponents to think that they’ll just bang in on the interior to try to create easy opportunities against lineups that don’t have height. In this sense, having a player of Smart’s height and build is invaluable. With his interior presence, Smart can prevent opposing teams from taking advantage of a supposed mismatch in the post, thereby preserving the offensive integrity on the other end that comes with having such a versatile lineup.

Of course, teams can just counter by trying to take Rozier or Irving in the post to keep Smart out of the play defensively. Cleveland tried this a lot in the Eastern Conference Finals when they realized that Terry Rozier was the only one who was getting outright abused when isolated against LeBron James. That creates problems, but they’re also problems that can be fixed by switching on all actions.

One strategy Boston used to mitigate this in the playoffs was allowing Cleveland to get the mismatches they wanted, but working quickly to switch again on the entry pass. In 3-guard lineups such as this one, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart have to be ready to switch and rotate quickly in order to prevent the defense from collapsing. Here’s a clip that demonstrates how Boston countered this strategy when Rozier was target.

On the other end of the floor, however, Smart’s ability to play within the arc opens up opportunities as well. In the clip, you’ll notice that Boston got the foul call here, but the Celtics were set up to play 4-in-1-out. Marcus Smart was the only player located inside the arc with other players set up behind the 3-point line. Smart is strong enough where he can easily score or get the foul call against a smaller defender like J.R. Smith.

If he gets doubled or finds it more difficult to score, he’s a fantastic passer which would theoretically allow him to pass out to an open 3-point shooter. It’s like everything the late-2000s Orlando Magic were with Dwight Howard, except Marcus Smart is seven inches shorter (but seven times tougher).

The point of all this is that Marcus Smart is good, and his defensive and offensive versatility will help the team in numerous ways. With the return of Gordon Hayward, maybe the Celtics won’t have to get so creative next season, but it’s still nice to have. And of course, Smart’s defensive versatility will always be a crucial component of what’s shaping up to be another elite defensive team.