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Smart’s early weakness is now a strength

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Too many times he has been discredited due to his perceived lack of shooting. He is now putting those people on notice.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Through all the turbulence of seasons past, Marcus Smart has been the constant in a world of change. His winning plays have become synonymous with Celtics basketball, the embodiment of what the sport means to Boston and its fans.

Drafted in 2014, he is now the longest tenured member of the Celtics, but while he has been beloved by Celtics fans since his inaugural year, he has not achieved the recognition he deserves on a wider scale.

Too many times he has been discredited due to his perceived lack of shooting. Well, he is putting those people on notice now.

It’s true that he had his struggles coming in to the league. His shooting was indeed a work in progress. During his first season, Smart posted shooting percentages of 36.7% from the field and 33.5% from three point range, not exactly terrible but definitely room for improvement.

During that season, Smart also had trouble at the free-throw line, only connecting on 64.6% of his attempts. So was it the case of he wasn’t getting good shooting opportunities, or was his free-throw percentage indicative of a poor shooting form?

It’s said that free-throw shooting is a true indicator on a shooters form and ability, Smart is sitting at 76.5% for his career. This could yet improve into the low or mid eighties quite easily.

Over the following four seasons Smart’s shooting followed a fairly linear trajectory, improving slightly each year. However, his three point shot did take a dive in to the high twenties during his second and third year, which was far from encouraging.

His defensive abilities have seen him remain a prominent member of the squad regardless of any shooting troubles he has had however. Coupled with his intangibles and winning mentality, Smart was been selected to the 2019 NBA All-Defensive First Team and NBA All-Rookie Second team. He has also had two runs to the conference finals and is yet to play a season which does not continue into the playoffs.

For a player who apparently can’t shoot, he is accomplishing an impressive career already. But now he can shoot as evidenced by his display against the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday.

To open the season Smart is shooting 33.3% from deep, but on an extra 3.5 attempts per game. Having found a confidence in his scoring ability we had yet to see, Smart is letting it fly whenever he sees daylight.

Now he is being recognized as a shooting threat the game is opening up for him, defenders are closing out on him to remove the three ball threat. This is allowing Smart to drive the lane, forcing the defense to make tough decisions. Resulting in either a bucket, assist or foul (as he only averages 0.5 turnovers a game) in turn increasing his assist average to further increase his production.

Smarts performance against the Bucks is a key indicator of how much he has improved.

Four of Smart’s made threes are identical to this play. He is positioned towards the weak side elbow three. He receives the pass in space, fires, and drains the shot. Impressively, he is considerably behind the line, his range has expanded which has helped him flourish.

Start making your threes and the defense will close out on the perimeter and when they close out, you can either drive or dish. In the above play, the Celtics are using great ball movement, trying to find the best shot. Smart gets the ball in the corner and fakes, his defender bites and Smart makes a clever little bounce pass resulting in an assist.

There is a lot of basketball ahead of us. But if this is the new Marcus Smart then his value on the Celtics reaches the echelon of untouchables. Not since Kevin Garnett has the team had a player so enshrined in the teams traditions and values nor has anyone had the level of two-way impact.

For all the supposed flaws this teams apparently possesses, defensive solidarity isn’t one nor is team unity. Leaders like Smart don’t come around often, he is integral to this team on so many levels - apparently scoring is now one of them.